The next consuls to enter upon office after the capture of Antium were Titus Aemilius and Quintus Fabius – the latter being the one survivor of the disaster suffered by his clan at the river Cremera. Aemilius during his previous term of office had brought forward a measure for making grants of land to plebeian families, and for that reason, on his being re–elected, hopes were high that a law would at last be put through, and the tribunes took the matter up with renewed confidence, in the belief that a measure which had so often been opposed by the consuls might now, with a consul’s support, be actually carried into effect. Aemilius himself had not, moreover, changed his mind on the subject. The owners – or, rather, occupiers – of the land in question comprised most of the patrician families of Rome; they, by indignantly asserting that a leading officer of state, allying himself with the party policies of the tribunes, was trying to be generous with other people’s property in order to curry popular favour, succeeded in diverting to the consul the whole onus of ill–feeling which would otherwise have fallen upon the tribunes. A bitter struggle was imminent, but Fabius saved the situation by a proposal which neither party found unacceptable: a certain amount of land, he reminded them, had been taken from the Volscians in the preceding year by Roman armies under the command of Titus Quinctius; Antium was a town with an excellent position on the coast; settlers might well be sent there, and in that way plebeian families might obtain farms without giving cause for complaint to the patrician landlords in Rome, and political harmony would not be disturbed. The suggestion was adopted. Three commissioners, Titus Quinctius, Aulus Verginius, and Publius Furius, were appointed, and all who wished to receive grants were instructed to give in their names. Human nature, however, does not change: the mere fact that there was plenty for everyone blunted the edge of appetite and so few applied for a grant that Volscian families had to be included in order to bring the number of settlers to a satisfactory figure. The bulk of the plebeian families preferred to demand land in the neighbourhood of Rome rather than to accept the offer of it elsewhere.
The Aequians, meanwhile, were causing trouble. Quintus Fabius had invaded their territory. They admitted defeat and asked for a truce. The truce was granted, but they promptly broke it by a sudden raid into Latium. In the following year Quintus Servilius who, with Spurius Postumius, had been elected to the consulship, was ordered against them. He constructed a permanent fortified post on Latin territory, where enforced inactivity caused serious sickness amongst the troops. The campaign dragged on into its third year, into the consulship of Quintus Fabius and Titus Quinctius, to the former of whom, on the strength of his previous success, was given the command against the Aequians: the usual drawing of lots was, in this case, waived. Fabius marched from Rome fully confident that his name alone would be enough to bring the Aequians to terms; he sent envoys to their national council with instructions to announce that he, Quintus Fabius the consul, the man who had brought peace to Rome after his victory, was now returning thence with a sword in that same right hand which had previously been offered them in friendship. Whose was the treachery, whose the perjury answerable for the change, was already clear in the sight of heaven, who would soon wreck vengeance on the offenders. Nevertheless he had hopes that the Aequians would, even now, avoid the distresses of war by freely admitting the error of their ways; if they did so, they would find safe refuge in the clemency they had experienced once already; if they clung to their perjury, they would find themselves at war not with a human enemy only but with the angry gods.
Fabius’s stern message had no effect whatever. The envoys who carried it were more or less roughly handled, and a force was dispatched against the Romans at Algidus. When the news reached Rome the insult was deeply resented, and, though the military situation did not really demand it, the other consul marched to join his colleague, so that two consular armies were approaching the enemy together, both bent upon immediate action. It so happened, however, that before anything could be done there was very little daylight left and a sentry on watch in one of the enemy outposts called out, ‘What’s this, my fine fellows? Action stations at nightfall? All for show, no doubt – for it does not look like business to me! As for ourselves, we shall need rather more daylight for the coming battle: form your line again at dawn tomorrow, and you will have plenty of chance for fighting, never fear!’ The taunt went home; the Roman troops were marched back to their quarters in no very amiable frame of mind to await the morrow, and not a man but felt that the coming night would be all too long. They ate and slept, and at daybreak were first in the field; later the Aequian force made its appearance and a hard–fought action ensued. No quarter was given by either side, as the Romans were exasperated by the insult they had received, while the Aequians were driven to utter recklessness both by the knowledge that they had brought their peril on themselves and by despair of ever being trusted again. Nevertheless recklessness and despair did not enable them to withstand the pressure of the Roman armies, and they were forced to retreat to their own territory. But they were a tough crowd, and even then were no more inclined to admit defeat; on the contrary the rank and file abused their commanders for their folly in risking an action in the field: that – they urged – was the form of fighting in which Rome admittedly excelled; their own advantage lay, on the other hand, in raiding operations: for them, successful warfare involved small units operating over a wide area rather than massed attack by an organized army. Accordingly they garrisoned their camp and crossed the Roman border; the incursion was so rapid and so violent that alarm was felt even in Rome: everyone in the city was on edge, and the more so from the unexpectedness of the move, as of all things the least to be feared was a sudden raid by a more or less beleaguered and defeated enemy. Families from outlying farms, who came scrambling into the city for protection, brought stories wildly exaggerated by their terror, magnifying small units and raiding–parties into legions and armies marching on Rome with terrible swiftness in a full–scale invasion. The rumours grew wilder and more absurd as they passed from mouth to mouth; men ran through the streets calling for a last stand; panic spread as if the enemy were already within the gates.
Fortunately Quinctius had returned to Rome from Algidus and was able to remedy the situation. Having restored some semblance of order, he pointed out, not without indignation, that the enemy everyone was so much afraid of had already been defeated. He then took the precaution of posting pickets at the city gates, convened a meeting of the Senate, and, with the Senate’s backing, proclaimed a justitium, or general suspension of public business. That done, he marched to the defence of the frontier, leaving Quintus Servilius as City Prefect, but found no enemy on Roman soil.
The other consul was highly successful: knowing the route which the enemy was bound to take, he fell upon them in circumstances very advantageous to himself, as their movement was impeded by the plunder they had collected during their raid. That plunder was their undoing; it was all recovered, and few of them escaped alive from the trap which had been set for them. The justitium, which had lasted four days, consequently came to an end upon Quinctius’s return to Rome.
The census was then taken, and Quinctius conducted the ceremonial purification which marked its conclusion. The number of citizens registered, apart from widows and orphans, is said to have been 104,714. In the campaign against the Aequians nothing further happened worth mentioning: they withdrew into their towns and offered no resistance to the burning and plundering of their farms. On several occasions the consul marched his men through the length and breadth of their territory taking everything he could pick up, and finally returned to Rome laden with plunder and with his reputation greatly enhanced.
The consuls for the next year were Aulus Postumius Albus and Spurius Furius Fuscus – some writers spell the name Fusius instead of Furius, a point I mention to preclude the mistake of supposing that it was a different person. There was no doubt that one of the consuls would lead a campaign against the Aequians, who accordingly appealed for help to the Volscians of Ecetra. The help was eagerly granted, these two peoples having always vied with one another in their hatred of Rome, and vigorous preparations for war were set going. The Hernici were aware of what was happening and warned Rome of the defection of Ecetra; the settlement at Antium was also under suspicion, as it was supposed that a large number of men had escaped from the town at the time of its capture and sought refuge with the Aequians, and they had, in fact, done very good service all through the Aequian campaign. Later, when the Aequians had been forced to take shelter inside their towns, these men dispersed and returned to Antium, where they won over the Roman settlers who were already at heart disloyal to their compatriots. Things had not yet come to a head when the proposed defection was reported to the Senate, and the consuls were instructed to summon the leading men amongst the settlers to Rome for questioning. They came readily enough, but their answers to the questions they were asked in the Senate left them, by the time they were dismissed, under graver suspicion than before. From that moment war was regarded as inevitable. The command against the Aequians was entrusted to the consul Furius, who marched from Rome and encountered marauding enemy forces in the territory of the Hernici; having seen only scattered bands, he was ignorant of their total strength and rashly offered battle against what proved to be superior numbers. At the very beginning of the engagement he was forced to retire within the fortifications of his camp. Even then the danger was by no means over, for throughout the night and the following day his position was subjected to such pressure from enemy attacks and so closely blockaded that it was not possible to get a message through to Rome. The defeat and subsequent blockade of Furius and his men were reported to the Hernici, and the impact of the news upon the Senate was so shattering that a state of emergency was formally declared: the form of the decree – that the consul shall see to it that the state takes no harm – has always been held to signify a real threat to the nation’s life. In this case the consul was Postumius, Furius’s colleague, and to him was entrusted the task of dealing with the emergency.
It was decided that Postumius himself should remain in Rome to enrol every man capable of bearing arms, while Titus Quinctius, acting on his behalf, was dispatched to the relief of the beleaguered camp with a contingent of allied troops drawn from the Latins, the Hernici, and the settlement at Antium, all of whom received orders to supply drafts of ‘crisis men’, as hurriedly raised reinforcements were called in those times. Crowded days followed; there was marching and counter–marching, and no one knew where the next blow would fall; the enemy’s numerical superiority led them to harass and divide the Roman forces – inadequate, as they knew, to deal successfully with every threat – by simultaneous operations on different fronts, sending one contingent to assault the camp, another to devastate farmland in Roman territory, another to attack Rome itself if it got the chance.
Valerius was left in charge of the city, Postumius sent out to protect the frontier. Every possible precaution was taken: watches were set in the city, pickets posted outside the gates, the walls manned, and – a necessary measure in so critical a time – all public business was suspended for several days. Furius meanwhile had been taking no action against the enemy forces which surrounded his camp, until he found a chance to catch them off their guard and made an unexpected sortie by way of the gate in the rear of his position. He might have followed up his advantage, but failed to do so for fear of an assault upon the camp from the other direction. His brother, serving under him as an officer, pressed his advance to a considerable distance and in the heat of action failed to observe either that his comrades were falling back or that the enemy were moving to the attack in his rear. Thus he found himself cut off, and after many fruitless but gallant attempts to fight his way back to the camp, he was killed. The consul had no sooner learned that his brother was surrounded than he, too, resumed the offensive and plunged into the thick of things with less caution than the circumstances demanded; he was wounded, and dragged to safety – but only just in time. This was a shock to his men and a great encouragement to the enemy: to have wounded the consul and killed his brother acted as fuel to the flame of their courage, and from that moment nothing could stop them; the Romans, dispirited and outnumbered, were forced back within the fortifications of their camp, where they were once again blockaded. Only the arrival of Quinctius with the allied contingents of the Latins and Hernici saved the army from total destruction.
The Aequians, when Quinctius appeared on the scene, were wholly intent upon the beleaguered troops in the camp, to whom with triumphant savagery they were displaying the severed head of the consul’s brother. Quinctius attacked them in the rear; upon a signal from himself there was a simultaneous sortie from the camp and a large part of the enemy force was surrounded. On Roman territory there was a further success, where the invading Aequians were even more soundly defeated, though their losses in killed were not so great; scattered groups of them were engaged in stripping the farms of whatever of value they could find, when they were attacked by Postumius simultaneously at various points where he had stationed troops to await their chance; trying to make their escape without any order or cohesion, they fell in with Quinctius as he was returning with the wounded consul from his successful action. That wound and the deaths of the lieutenant and his men were nobly avenged in the battle which ensued.
Throughout these operations heavy losses were inflicted and received by both sides. In describing events so distant in time, it is difficult to make a precise or trustworthy estimate of the size of the forces engaged or the number of casualties; none the less Valerius of Antium does venture to do so: according to his account Roman losses in the territory of the Hernici amounted to 5,200 killed, and those of the Aequian raiders in their engagement with Postumius to 2,400 killed; the rest of them, who fell into Quinctius’s trap as they were on the way home with their plunder, suffered far worse, losing no fewer (as Valerius says with punctilious exactitude) than 4,230 men.
When the campaign was over and normal business in Rome had been resumed, strange things began to happen: lights blazed in the sky, and other inexplicable phenomena were either seen or, perhaps, imagined by frightened people. So seriously was this taken that a three days’ feriae was proclaimed – shops were shut, the courts closed, and all work forbidden, while every shrine and temple was, throughout the period, packed with men and women praying for the pardon of heaven. The troops from Latium and the Hernici were thanked by the Senate for the services they had rendered and sent home, and the thousand men from Antium who had arrived late, after the battle was over, were dismissed more or less in disgrace. Elections were then held, and Lucius Aebutius and Publius Servilius began their term of office on 1 August – at that epoch the beginning of the year. It was an unhealthy season and in both town and country there was a great deal of sickness. Cattle suffered as much as men, and the incidence of disease was increased by overcrowding, as farmers together with their livestock had been taken into the city for fear of raids. The smell of this motley collection of animals and men was distressing to the city folk, who were not accustomed to it; the farmers and yokels, packed as they were into inadequate quarters, suffered no less from the heat and lack of sleep, while attendance upon the sick, or mere contact of any kind, continually spread the infection. The unhappy people were already almost at the end of their tether, when a report suddenly arrived from the Hernici that a combined army of Aequians and Volscians had crossed their border and established a base from which very powerful forces were overrunning the countryside. The Hernican envoys who brought the news together with their request for assistance received a melancholy answer – though it was already only too clear, by the diminished numbers in the Senate, that the plague had reduced Rome to desperate straits: they were told, in short, that with what aid the Latins could give they must fend for themselves. The gods had visited Rome with sudden wrath and were destroying her; but should any relief be granted, then she would help her friends as she had always done in the past. Thus the envoys had even worse news to take home than what they had brought with them, for it meant that they would have to bear alone the whole weight of a war, which even with Roman assistance would have been almost beyond their strength.
The invaders did not stop at the territory of the Hernici but swept on into that of Rome, where the farmlands needed no enemy to render them desolate. In all the countryside they found not a single man, armed or unarmed; there was no sign of defenders, not a trace of cultivation. Passing through what might have been a desert, they advanced to the third milestone on the Gabinian Way.
In the city, the consul Aebutius had died; his colleague Servilius was in a lingering state, almost despaired of. Most of the leading men, the majority of the Senate, almost everyone of military age were down with the disease. The situation called for military counter–measures, but such, in the circumstances, were utterly impossible; there were hardly enough fit men left to mount guard at the gates. Watches were kept by those of senatorial rank who were young enough, and fit enough, to do so, while the duty of doing the rounds of inspection fell upon the plebeian aediles, into whose hands had passed the lofty responsibility normally wielded by the consuls.
Her strength gone and with no one to lead her, Rome lay helpless. Only her tutelary gods could save her – and her own abiding Fortune. And so it was: the enemy proved to be no soldiers after all, but merely thieves. They were very far, as it turned out, from hoping to capture, or even to get within striking distance of, the city; the mere sight from far away of its hills and houses so effectively extinguished their martial ardour, that with one accord they began to grumble about wasting their time amongst the rotting carcases of men and cattle in a stricken desert where nothing was to be found worth taking, while they might just as well be turning their attention to the rich and wholesome lands of Tusculum. So, on the spur of the moment, they got moving again, and passed by cross–country tracks through the territory of Labici to the hills near Tusculum, which from then on became the focal point of their operations.
The Latins and Hernici, meanwhile, showed their sympathy in a practical manner. Ashamed to allow a common enemy to march on Rome without making any effort to stop him, or bringing any aid to their beleaguered friends, they joined forces and proceeded to the scene of action. Finding the enemy gone, they gathered what information they could and followed his tracks until they finally came upon him approaching the valley of Alba from the direction of the hills near Tusculum. A battle ensued in circumstances greatly to their disadvantage, so that, for the present at least, their loyalty to their friends cost them dear. Their losses were heavy, but not greater in number than the victims of the plague in Rome, which included the surviving consul, and other distinguished men such as the augurs Marcus Valerius and Titus Verginius Rutilus, and the president of the Ward–Priests, Servius Sulpicius, while amongst the nameless and humble its ravages were indeed terrible. The Senate, despairing of human aid, turned the people to their prayers, bidding them go with their wives and children and supplicate heaven for a remission of their sorrows. It was an official command, but no more than what each was impelled to do by his own distress: every shrine was packed; in every temple women lay prostrate, their hair sweeping the floor, praying the angry gods to grant them pardon and to put an end to the plague.
It may be that the prayers were granted; in any case, the sickly season was now over, and from this time, little by little, those in whom the disease had run its course began to recover, and it was once more possible for people to turn their thoughts to public affairs. Several interregna had expired, when Publius Valerius Publicola, three days after assuming office as interrex, declared the election to the consulship of Lucius Lucretius Tricipitinus and Titus Veturius (or Vetusius) Geminius. They entered office on 11 August, by which time the general health of the population was so far re–established that, in addition to the defence of the city, it was possible to undertake offensive operations. Accordingly upon receipt of a report from the Hernici that their territory had been invaded, assistance was promptly offered: two consular armies were enrolled, Veturius being commissioned to proceed against the Volscians, while Tricipitinus, ordered to protect allied territory from invasion, marched eastward to the Hernici. Veturius was completely successful in his first engagement; Tricipitinus failed to intercept an enemy raiding party which had crossed the mountains of Praeneste and, after doing much damage to the countryside about Praeneste and Gabii, had then turned left for the Tusculan hills. Rome herself had a moment of acute anxiety: not that she was incapable of defending herself, but because the threat was totally unexpected. Quintus Fabius was in command in the city; all men of military age were, by his instructions, armed; all strong points were manned, and everything made safe and kept under orderly control. In consequence of these precautions the enemy, after taking whatever of value they could find in the immediate neighbourhood, did not venture to approach the city, but by a circuitous route made for home. The further away they got, the more careless they became, until they unexpectedly fell in with the consul Lucretius, whose scouts had already ascertained the route they were likely to take. Lucretius’s men were deployed for battle and ready to engage. To them, the sudden action came as no surprise; the enemy, on the contrary, were taken completely off their guard; they panicked at the first attack, albeit by somewhat inferior numbers, and their whole force – a very large one – was flung into disorder. The victorious Romans drove them down into the deep gullies from which escape was difficult, and surrounded them. In what followed the Volscian name almost ceased to exist: in some records I find that 13,470 were killed during the battle and the subsequent rout, 1,150 prisoners were taken, and 27 regimental standards captured. These numbers are perhaps exaggerated; none the less, they did, without doubt, suffer terribly. The victorious consul, laden with the spoils of war, returned to the permanent camp he had previously occupied. The two consuls then joined forces, and the Volscians and Aequians did the same with what was left of their own. There was another battle – the third that year. The result was as before: Rome’s enemies were defeated in the field, and their camp fell into Roman hands.
In the course of these events history was repeated and the successful conclusion of a war was once again immediately followed by political disturbances. Amongst the tribunes for the year was a certain Gaius Terentillus Arsa, and he it was who began to stir up trouble, taking advantage of the consuls’ absence from the city. On several successive days he made inflammatory speeches to the mob, inveighing bitterly against the arrogance of the patricians as a whole and more particularly against the excessive powers of the consuls, which he denounced as intolerable in a free community. Consul, he declared, might be a less hateful word than King, but in actual fact consular government was even more oppressive than monarchy, in that the country had taken two masters in place of one, both of them men with irresponsible and unlimited powers who without any sort of check upon themselves used the whole terror of the law with all the penalties it sanctioned for the crushing of the common people. ‘Therefore,’ he said, ‘it is my intention to propose a measure which will put a stop to this tyranny. Five commissioners must be appointed to codify the laws which limit and define the power of the consuls; that done, the consuls will be bound to use against the people only the authority granted to them by popular assent, instead of giving the force of law, as they do at present, to their own arbitrary passions.’
The effect of the tribune’s proposal was highly disturbing to the patricians, who were afraid that, as neither consul was at the moment in Rome, they might be compelled to submit; but the situation was saved by the City Prefect, Quintus Fabius, who convened the Senate and delivered a violent attack both upon the measure itself and on the character of the man who proposed it: indeed if both consuls had been present in person to face the tribune, they could have added nothing to the strength of his denunciation. ‘Traitor that you are,’ he cried, ‘you have timed your attack upon the government with the utmost cunning. If last year, when we had war and pestilence to contend with, the angry gods had cursed us with a tribune like you, nothing could have saved us: with the consuls dead, the country prostrate with disease, and everything in hopeless confusion, he would have brought in a measure for abolishing the consular authority, and would thereby have shown our enemies the road to their assault on Rome. Think again, my friend: if a consul is guilty of a tyrannical or oppressive act against any individual, does not the law allow you to call him to account, to accuse him in court where he will be tried by men of the same class as his victim? It is not the consular authority which you are making hateful and intolerable; it is the power of the tribunes, a power once brought into harmony with the Senate so that it no longer conflicted with the Senate’s proper functions, but now degraded again to its former state. I will not ask you to abandon the course you have begun. No; it is you other tribunes whom I would implore never to forget that the power you wield was given you to help individuals where help was needed, not to destroy the commonwealth as a whole. You were appointed not as enemies of the Senate, but as tribunes of the people. That the government should be attacked now, when the consuls’ absence renders it helpless, is for us a bitter thing; but on your heads it will bring hatred. Diminish that hatred, I beg you – for it will in no way diminish your rights – by urging your colleague to postpone discussion of this matter until the consuls are back in Rome. Even the Aequians and Volscians, when the consuls last year had died of the plague, spared us the full horrors of war.’
The other tribunes used their influence with Terentillus to secure a postponement of his proposed measure – though in point of fact it was temporarily dropped.
The consuls were immediately recalled to Rome. Lucretius entered the city covered with glory and laden with the spoils of war. The enthusiasm which greeted his arrival was further increased by his generous behaviour in having all the captured material laid out in the Campus Martius for a period of three days, for public inspection: anyone who recognized property of his own could take it away; whatever was not claimed was sold. Lucretius had, by general consent, earned the distinction of a Triumph, but since in his own view discussion of Terentillus’s proposal for political reforms was of more immediate importance, the celebration was postponed. For a number of days the political issue was debated both in the Senate and before the people, until Terentillus finally yielded to the authority of the consul and ceased to urge his case. The commander and his army were then able to receive the official recognition they had so truly earned, and Lucretius celebrated his Triumph over the Volscians and Aequians, his chariot followed through the streets of Rome by the legions who had fought at his side. Veturius, the other consul, was granted the lesser distinction of an Ovation, entering the city unaccompanied by his troops.
The consuls of the following year, Volumnius and Sulpicius, had no sooner entered upon office than they were faced with the necessity of dealing all over again with Terentillus’s proposed measure, which this time was brought forward with the backing of the whole college of tribunes. The year was marked by ominous signs: fires blazed in the sky, there was a violent earthquake, and a cow talked – there was a rumour that a cow had talked the previous year, but nobody believed it: this year they did. Nor was this all: it rained lumps of meat. Thousands of birds (we are told) seized and devoured the pieces in mid–air, while what fell to the ground lay scattered about for several days without going putrid. The Sybilline Books were consulted by two officials, who found in them the prediction that danger threatened from a ‘concourse of alien men’, who might attack ‘the high places of the City, with the shedding of blood’. There was also found, amongst other things, a warning to avoid factious politics. This annoyed the tribunes, who swore the prophecies were a fake, deliberately invented to stop the passage of the proposed law. A dangerous clash was imminent, and only avoided by – would you believe it? – a report from the Hernici that the Volscians and Aequians, in spite of their recent losses, were on the warpath again. The old cycle was being repeated.
This time, the nerve–centre of the threatened attack was, according to the report, Antium, and at Ecetra settlers from Antium were openly meeting to discuss plans. In the Senate a decree was promptly issued for the raising of troops, and the consuls received instruments to assume direction each of his own sphere of the coming operations. The tribunes loudly asserted in public that the war–scare was a blind: it was a piece of play–acting staged by the Senate, who had hired the Hernici to play a part in it. The liberty of the Roman people, they declared, had once been suppressed by strong measures, the open hostility of men against men: now worse means were being employed – bare–faced trickery. As no one could possibly believe that the Aequians and Volscians after their crushing defeat would be already capable of aggression, a new enemy had to be invented; so a neighbouring colony of known loyalty to Rome was accused of treachery. War had been declared, indeed, against the innocent Antiates; but the real enemy which the Senate meant to fight was the common people of Rome; they proposed to drive them, loaded with military equipment, helter–skelter out of the city, and by getting rid of as many of them as possible to revenge themselves upon their representatives, the tribunes. The people, they asserted, had better realize that the Senate’s one object was to quash the proposed legislation, and that the object was already achieved – unless they themselves acted promptly. The matter was still open; they had not yet changed civilian dress for the soldier’s: let them, therefore, take immediate steps to avoid expulsion from the city which belonged to them, and the slavery which would follow. Let them show courage, and help would not be wanting: the tribunes were unanimous; there was no danger to be feared from foreign enemies, and their liberties could be safely defended – under the eye of heaven, as the gods had shown the previous year.
The consuls in reply to the tribunes’ outburst ordered their chairs of state to be placed full in their view and proceeded with the levy. The tribunes pressed towards them with a mob at their heels. A few names were tentatively called, and a riot began. If the consul ordered an arrest, a tribune countered by ordering the prisoner’s release. Rights and duties were forgotten; force, and what it might achieve, was the only arbiter of conduct.
The question of the proposed legislation was brought up on each successive day that the Assembly could be legally held, and the Senate employed similar tactics in blocking it to those the tribunes had employed in blocking recruitment. Senators and aristocrats refused to budge when the tribunes issued their order to divide into centuries for voting, and this started the brawling. The older men, indeed, in the senatorial party took little part in an affair with which statesmanship obviously had nothing to do, but which had become the mere battleground of conflicting passions, and the consuls, too, dissociated themselves from it as far as they reasonably could, to avoid any affront to their exalted office such as might well occur in the general confusion.
There was a young nobleman named Caeso Quinctius, a man of action, tall and strongly built, whose physical endowments were enhanced by a distinguished record both as a soldier and as a forensic orator. In short, it was generally felt that if either words or deeds were called for, there was no better man in Rome than he. To the Senatorial party he was a tower of strength: standing amongst his friends, head and shoulders above them all, strong as an ox and with a commanding voice which seemed to suggest all the powers of state rolled into one, he was indeed a champion of the patrician cause, ready single–handed to meet the attacks of the tribunes and to weather the storms of popular fury unaided and alone. Many a time under his vigorous leadership the tribunes had been hounded out of the Forum and the mob scattered like a beaten enemy, while anyone who dared to cross him soon found himself creeping away the worse for wear, or with his clothes stripped from his back, so that it was sufficiently obvious that, if this sort of thing was allowed to go on, there was little chance of Terentillus’s proposal ever being passed into law.
The only one of the tribunes who was not cowed into submission was Aulus Verginius, who, accordingly, summoned Caeso to stand his trial on a capital charge. Caeso was not a whit disturbed; on the contrary, the summons was fuel to the flame of his haughty and uncompromising nature, so that with increased virulence he continued to oppose the passage of the law, harrying the mob and doing battle with the tribunes more vigorously than ever. Verginius made no attempt to check the headlong career of his intended victim; he allowed him to fan the flames of popular fury and to supply further matter for the charges he meant to bring against him in court, and continued meanwhile to urge the measure less in the hope of getting it through than with the deliberate intention of goading Caeso to lose control of himself. Caeso was by now a notorious character, and was often, in these circumstances, held personally responsible for things done or said – regrettably, in the heat of the moment – by the younger nobles.
Resistance to the proposed law was none the less not allowed to drop, and Verginius took every opportunity to continue his provocative speeches to the people. ‘I presume, my good friends,’ he would say, ‘that you are now aware that the law you wish to see passed is incompatible with the presence of Caeso in your midst. Caeso – or the law: you cannot have both. But why say “law”? It is your liberty that this man is trying to destroy – this tiger compared with whom the Tarquins were but lambs. Nobody though he is, you can see him playing the tyrant over you – but wait till he becomes consul or dictator!’ Such words found ready listeners amongst the numerous people who complained of rough treatment at Caeso’s hands, and now urged Verginius to proceed to business.
The day fixed for the trial drew near. Amongst the masses the belief was clear enough that liberty depended upon Caeso’s being found guilty. In consequence he was at last forced to the disagreeable necessity of canvassing for the support of individual citizens, and went about amongst them accompanied by his distinguished friends. Titus Quinctius Capitolinus, who had been three times consul, reminded people of the fine record of Caeso and his family, declaring that never before in the Quinctian clan – or, indeed, in any other throughout Rome’s history – had there been a nobler example of native genius which had ripened so soon into the best qualities of manhood. Caeso, he said, had been his finest soldier, and many was the fight he had fought under his eye. Spurius Furius testified that Caeso, sent by Capitolinus to help extricate him from a dangerous situation, had succeeded magnificently and that the subsequent victory was due to no one man more than to him. Lucretius, the consul of the previous year, still in the full glory of his recent victories, attributed to Caeso a share in his success and told over again the story of the campaigns and of Caeso’s splendid service on raids or in the field, urging his hearers with all the eloquence at his command to remember that Caeso was a man of true quality, blessed with every gift of nature and fortune, who would inevitably exert the greatest influence on the affairs of any country where he happened to be, and begging them, in consequence, not to let him become an alien in exile, but to keep him as their own, in Rome. After all – he added – that fervid impetuosity to which they objected was diminishing daily as he grew older, while the wisdom and stability of judgement, which he at present wanted, proportionately increased. Steadily the bad in him was withering away, and the good growing to maturity: surely, therefore, they should allow a man of such sterling worth to grow old amongst them? Another man to put in his plea was Caeso’s father, Lucius Quinctius, surnamed Cincinnatus. Afraid of adding to his son’s unpopularity if he, too, did nothing but sing his praises, Lucius took another line and asked indulgence for his son’s youthful extravagances, begging the people to pardon him as a favour to himself, who had never done or said anything to hurt anyone. He met, however, with no success; so strong was the feeling against Caeso that some were afraid of listening to Lucius’s pleading; others were embarrassed, while others, again, countered with complaints of the rough usage they had received, and that so bitterly as to make very clear what their verdict would be.
Apart from the general dislike in which Caeso was held, there was one particular charge which told heavily against him. It was brought up by a certain Marcus Volscius Fictor, who had been tribune a few years previously, and the story was that this Fictor, shortly after the epidemic, had encountered a riotous party of young aristocrats in the Subura; a quarrel broke out during which his elder brother, who had not yet fully recovered his health, was knocked down by a blow from Caeso’s fist; he was carried home in a fainting condition, and subsequently died as a direct result of his injury. Under the consuls of the last few years he – Fictor – had not been able to obtain satisfaction for this atrocious crime. This story, told by Fictor at the top of his voice in the crowded street, caused such excitement that Caeso was nearly torn to pieces on the spot. Verginius ordered his arrest and imprisonment. The patricians resisted the order no less vigorously. Titus Quinctius loudly asserted that it was illegal to lay hands on a man who was shortly due for trial on a capital charge, before the case had been heard or sentence passed. Verginius replied that he had no intention of punishing the prisoner before he was condemned: he was determined, however, to keep him in custody till the case came on, to make sure that the people of Rome were not deprived of their chance to punish a homicide. The other tribunes were then appealed to, and decided on a compromise: exercising their right to protect the person of the accused, they refused to allow him to be gaoled and ordered that he should appear before the court; in the event of his failing to appear a sum of money should be pledged to the people. The question of the amount, being in doubt, was referred to the Senate, and the accused was detained in custody until it could be consulted. The Senate declared their intention of providing sureties, each for a sum of 3,000 asses. The number of sureties was to depend upon the decision of the tribunes, who fixed it at ten. Verginius then admitted the accused to bail. It was the first case on record of a defendant giving sureties to the people.
Caeso, having liberty of movement after these arrangements were made, left Rome for Etruria on the following night, and on the day of the trial his supporters pleaded that he had gone into voluntary exile. Verginius was none the less determined to try him in his absence, but failed to do so when the other tribunes, on being appealed to, dismissed the Assembly. Caeso’s father was ruthlessly compelled to pay up; in order to do so, he had to sell everything he possessed and leave the city. He found a deserted hovel across the river, and lived there like a banished man.
In spite of peace abroad, the trial of Caeso and the dispute about Terentillus’s proposed reform had, throughout this period, kept the whole country in a ferment. The tribunes were exultant; the patrician cause having received a severe setback from Caeso’s exile, they felt that the law was as good as passed already; and it was undoubtedly true that the older patricians, at any rate, had loosened their hold upon the conduct of affairs. The younger nobles, however, especially those amongst them who had been hand in glove with Caeso, showed no signs of softening; but though their animosity against the commons was more bitter than ever, the methods they adopted to achieve their ends showed a certain moderation, which largely contributed to their success. As soon as the attempt was made, after Caeso’s exile, to reintroduce the question of Terentillus’s law, they took the field, as it were, with a great army of their personal dependants, bent upon the destruction of the tribunes. Immediately the tribunes tried to clear them off the streets, they went for them tooth and nail; which of their number was the doughtiest champion in the brawl – which of them went home with the largest share of glory or blame – it is impossible to say. The action was admirably concerted, and drew from the populace the angry comment that whereas they had had only one Caeso before, they now had a thousand. On the days when there was no business regarding the proposed legislation, these same young gentlemen behaved very differently: then, they were models of decorum; they would bid their friends of the working class good morning, talk to them kindly, and invite them to their homes; they strolled about the Forum with an air of good–fellowship and made no attempt to obstruct any meeting on different matters which the tribunes might wish to hold. In short, they showed no hostility whatever, either as individuals or as a class, except when the question of the reform came up for discussion; on all other occasions the young noblemen acted like convinced democrats. The tribunes, moreover, were not only able to put through their other business without opposition, but were re–elected to office for the following year; the people, for their part, were brought to heel without even a harsh word; of violence there was no question; it was, in fact, all done by kindness. Such was the successful policy by which the objectionable legislation was put off to the end of the year.
When Appius’s son Claudius and Publius Valerius Publicola entered upon the consulship, they found public affairs in a more settled state. The new year had brought no fresh problems, Terentillus’s proposed measure, and the possible passing of it into law, being still the centre of the conflicting interests of the two parties. The more the young patricians ingratiated themselves with the commons, the fiercer became the opposition of the tribunes, who did their utmost to discredit them by all sorts of slanders – that a plot was brewing, that Caeso was back in Rome, that plans were prepared for the murder of the tribunes and a general massacre, that the elder patricians had commissioned their young friends to get the tribunate abolished and restore the government to what it had been in the bad old days before the occupation of the Sacred Mount. There were two further causes of trouble: first, the fear of attack by the Volscians and Aequians, which by now had almost become an annual event, and, secondly, a new danger which unexpectedly raised its head much nearer home. Under the leadership of a Sabine named Appius Herdonius an army of slaves and exiles, 2,500 strong, seized under cover of darkness the Fortress on the Capitol, and butchered every man they found there who refused to join them. Some escaped in the confusion and ran down pell–mell into the Forum. Panic spread; cries of ‘To arms!’, ‘the enemy is upon us!’ rang through the streets. The consuls were in a dilemma: to arm the people, and not to arm them, seemed equally dangerous, as the cause and origin of the sudden attack were still obscure; it might, for all they yet knew, be a foreign enemy – or an attempt on the city by the angry mob – or a treacherous uprising of the slaves. They did their utmost to restore calm but without much success, for the panic–stricken mob was out of control and in no state to listen to orders. However, they did finally distribute arms, though on a limited scale – sufficient, so far as they could guess with their present inadequate knowledge, to deal with whatever might occur with reasonable confidence. What remained of the night proved, in the general uncertainty about the nature and numbers of the enemy, a time of acute anxiety, and the hours till dawn were spent in picketing strategic points in all parts of the city. Daylight made the situation clear: Herdonius, in possession of the Capitol, was calling upon the slaves to assert their freedom, and proclaiming himself the champion of the oppressed with the object of restoring to their country all who had been unjustly sentenced to exile, and of freeing the slaves from their cruel yoke. He would prefer, he declared, to achieve his purpose with the approval of the Roman people; but, should that approval be withheld, he would stop at nothing and, if necessary, call in the Volscians and Aequians.
To the Senate and the consuls no doubt now remained about the magnitude of the crisis, though its implications were not yet fully resolved: they were afraid, in spite of the threats of Herdonius, that the whole thing might be a plot of the Veientes or the Sabines, and that at any moment, with so large a hostile force already in the city, there might be an attack by a combined Sabine and Etruscan army – or, again, that their traditional enemies the Volscians and Aequians might go one better than their usual frontier raid and, encouraged by the presence of enemy forces within the walls, venture an assault upon the city itself. But of all causes of alarm the worst was the slaves – the universal dread of having an enemy in one’s own house; no slave could be safely trusted, and to show open suspicion was equally dangerous, as it might only exacerbate his hostility. So serious was the situation that it seemed beyond the power even of a united people to face it with confidence; it was as if a flood were sweeping over Rome, and drowning men had no thoughts to spare for politics; fear of the tribunes, fear of the populace was forgotten – it was a tame thing by comparison, a recurrent inconvenience which cropped up when times were otherwise quiet and now seemed lulled to sleep by the terror which threatened from a foreign enemy.
In point of fact, however, it was precisely the political division of the country which, in the present crisis, was most fraught with danger; for the tribunes were so blinded with passion that they insisted that the seizure of the Capitol was a mere piece of play–acting got up to divert the attention of the commons from the question of political reform; the friends and retainers of the nobility would, they declared, melt away even more silently than they had come, once the passing of the reform had proved the futility of their attempt. They then called the people from their military duties and convened an assembly with the object of getting the law passed.
Meanwhile the Senate was sitting, and the members were showing even more alarm at the behaviour of the tribunes than they had shown at the seizure of the Capitol during the night. Presently the news came that the men were laying down their arms and leaving their posts; instantly Valerius, leaving his colleague to keep the Senate together, hurried from the building to where the tribunes were holding their meeting. ‘Come, gentlemen,’ he cried; ‘what is the meaning of this? Is it your intention to follow Herdonius and wreck the country? Has this blackguard who failed to raise the slaves against us been so successful in bribing you to support him? The enemy are on top of us – yet you want, it seems, to down swords and discuss politics!’ Then turning to address the crowd, ‘Friends and citizens,’ he went on, ‘though you feel no concern for your city or yourselves, fear at least your gods whom the enemy hold captive! Jupiter, Lord of all, Juno, the Queen, Minerva, and all the company of heaven are beleaguered; an army of slaves hold in their hands the divinities who guard your country. A hostile force, many hundreds strong, is within the walls – nay, more: it is in the Citadel – up there, above the Forum and the Senate House: and what do we do? A public meeting in the Forum – a session of the Senate – senators propose motions – the commons vote – all as if peace and security reigned supreme! Does this look like a country in its senses – or is it lunacy? No, no, my friends: at a moment like this every man in Rome, regardless of rank, patrician and plebeian alike – consuls, tribunes, the gods themselves – should have marched sword in hand to the Capitol, to restore liberty and peace to the awful House where Jupiter dwells. Father Romulus, hear my prayer, and give your children the courage which burned in your breast when you wrested from these same Sabines the Citadel they had captured with their gold! Bid them go forward where once you led, on the road which once your soldiers trod. I will be the first to follow your divine footsteps, so far as a man may. Citizens of Rome, I take up my sword, and call upon every man of you to do the same!’
To this stirring appeal Valerius added that if anyone stood in his way, rank and dignity should count for nothing; regardless of consular authority, tribunician power, the sanctity of person as established by law, he would regard any man, anywhere, on the Capitol or in the Forum, who tried to stop him as a public enemy. ‘If the tribunes,’ he cried, ‘forbid you to march against the traitor Herdonius, let them order you to march against me, your consul. I shall not hesitate to deal with them as the founder of my family once dealt with kings.’
It was clear that an appeal to force was imminent, and that the enemy would soon be enjoying the spectacle of civil war in Rome. Things had reached an impasse: it was as hopeless for the tribunes to continue their attempt to get the law passed as for the consul to proceed to the Capitol. Darkness, however, averted the immediate danger, and the tribunes, fearing the armed strength of the consuls, retired as night closed in.
As it was the tribunes who had incited the people to insurrection, the patricians, once they were out of the way, took their opportunity: moving about the city still crowded with people they joined groups of men excitedly talking, and put in a wise word or two, urging their listeners to realize the terrible danger into which they were bringing the country, and insisting that it was no longer merely a question of class conflict but that the whole nation, nobles and commons alike, together with the Citadel and its temples, the tutelary gods of every household in the city and of the City itself, was being surrendered to the enemy. The consuls, while these efforts were being made in the streets to bring the people to their senses, had gone off to inspect the defences of the gates and walls, in case of some hostile movement from Veii or the Sabines.
In the course of that night news reached Tusculum of the various troubles in Rome, including the occupation of the Capitol and the seizure of the citadel. Lucius Mamilius, who at that time enjoyed supreme power in the town, promptly called a meeting of his Council; the messengers from Rome were brought in, and Mamilius urged with all the force at his command that it would be wrong to withhold action till Rome sent a formal request for aid; the situation spoke for itself – her desperate danger, the oaths of alliance they had sworn in the sight of God, demanded that they should act promptly. They would never be given a better chance of earning the gratitude of their powerful neighbour. The Council voted in favour; troops were enrolled and arms issued.
By dawn the Tusculan contingent was in sight of Rome; they were taken at first for a hostile force of Aequians or Volscians, but when on their near approach it proved a false alarm, they were admitted into the city and proceeded in column to the Forum, where Valerius, having left his colleague to guard the gates, was already engaged in preparing his men for action. The fact that he was able to do so was something of a personal triumph; for he had declared that if they would allow him, once the Capitol was recovered and peace restored, to explain to them the real dangers which underlay the proposal which the tribunes were trying to pass into law, he would be their friend for ever: remembering the services his family had rendered to the people long ago and the name of Publicola, or People’s Friend, which he still bore and by which he had, as it were, inherited the duty of protecting their lawful interests, he would never seek to rob them of their right to assemble for political purposes. The promise had its effect; the men followed him in spite of the efforts of the tribunes to stop them, and with the support of the troops from Tusculum the march up the slope of the Capitoline hill began. The Tusculans were as determined as the citizen soldiers of Rome; each contingent was the rival of the other for the honour of recovering the Citadel.
With attack imminent the enemy were ill at ease. Only the strength of their position gave them any confidence. Then, before they could pull themselves together, the assault was delivered. The Temple court was forced, but a moment later Valerius, fighting at the head of his men, was killed. Volumnius saw him fall and, ordering a party to cover his body, dashed forward to take his commander’s place. In the heat of the assault the rank and file were unaware of their loss, grievous though it was, and the battle was won before the men knew that they were fighting without their captain. Many of the exiles stained the temple with their blood; many were taken prisoner. Herdonius was killed. The prisoners, both freemen and slaves, received the punishment appropriate to their rank and station, Tusculum received formal thanks for her aid, and an act of purification was performed on the Capitol. It is said that the common people flocked to the house of the dead consul and that each man tossed in a copper to enable his funeral to be solemnized on a more sumptuous scale.
With the restoration of peace the tribunes pressed the Senate to honour Valerius’s promise, and the consul Claudius to justify the departed spirit of his colleague by allowing discussion of the law to be resumed. Claudius in reply refused to do so until the vacancy in the consulship had been filled, and the dispute continued until the day of the election, in December, when with the enthusiastic support of the senatorial party Caeso’s father, Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, was returned as consul, to enter upon his duties forthwith. To the commons the election came as a shock; for they were aware that they would have in Cincinnatus a consul of great ability who was powerfully backed by the Senate and far from friendly to themselves – a man, moreover, who was the father of three sons, all of whom yielded nothing to Caeso in haughtiness and surpassed him in the ability to show restraint when reasons of state might make it advisable to do so. Cincinnatus began his period of office with a series of speeches in which his castigation of the Senate was even more vehement than his attempts to repress the commons. According to him, it was the feebleness of the senatorial party which had allowed the tribunes to hold office for an indefinite period and by their scurrilous talk and reiterated charges to exercise a tyranny fitter for a disorderly household than for the political life of a city like Rome. Courage, constancy, all the virtues which, in civil or military life, were the true glory of manhood, had followed his son Caeso into banishment. ‘And what,’ he cried, ‘have we in their stead? The tribunes! Those men of many words, those trouble–mongers and fomenters of political strife, who by underhand methods get themselves elected for a second, or even a third, term of office and lord it amongst us as irresponsibly as kings! Did Aulus Verginius deserve less punishment than Herdonius, simply because he was not in the Capitol? By any just account he deserved more. Herdonius at least proclaimed himself an enemy – and that was as good as a call to arms; but this fellow told you there was nothing to fight about, and thereby robbed you of your swords and exposed you unarmed and helpless to a rabble of exiles and the fury of your own slaves. And you – with due respect to Claudius and his dead colleague let me say it – you marched up the Capitoline hill before turning these enemies of your country out of the Forum. Shame on you all! With the Fortress on the Capitol in enemy hands, with a leader of slaves and exiles desecrating by his hateful presence the holy shrine of Jupiter Greatest and Best, it was in Tusculum, not in Rome, that swords were first drawn, and nobody knew whether Mamilius of Tusculum or our own consuls, Valerius and Claudius, would strike the blow which would liberate our Citadel! He who once refused to let the Latins arm even in their own defence against an invader, would, on this fateful day, have been utterly destroyed had they not on their own initiative taken up arms to save us. I ask the tribunes – is that what you call “helping the people” – to deliver them, helpless and unarmed, into the enemy’s hands to have their throats cut? Why, if the humblest of your people – your people, whom you have cut away from the rest of us to make a sort of state within the state, all of your own – if, I say, the obscurest of them all sent you word that his servants had possessed themselves of arms and were besieging his house, you would think it your duty to rescue him; and is Jupiter himself unworthy of any human aid, when ringed round by the swords of exiles and slaves? Yet these precious tribunes expect their persons to be sacred and inviolable, though God himself, in their view, is neither! Sunk as you are in a morass of impiety and crime, you yet continue to assert that you will get the law through before the year is out; if you do, then, by Heaven, it was a bad day for Rome when I was made consul – worse, by far, than when Valerius was killed.
‘And now,’ he ended, ‘the first resolve of myself and my colleague is to take the field against the Volscians and Aequians – for God seems to smile more kindly upon this country of ours when we are at war. How dangerous those peoples would have been, had they known that a band of exiles had succeeded in occupying the Capitol, is pleasanter to guess from what has already happened than to wait for bitter experience to prove.’
The effect of this harangue upon the populace was very great, and to the senatorial party it brought renewed confidence that public affairs were at last moving in the right direction. The other consul, ready enough to support Quinctius though unwilling himself to take the lead, offered no objection to his colleague’s initiative; though in carrying out the important measures he had proposed, he claimed his share of the duties of his office. The tribunes, for their part, were contemptuous; Quinctius’s speech was, they said, all sound and no sense – for how could the consuls lead an army into the field, when no one would permit them to raise troops? Quinctius, however, had his answer ready. ‘We have no need,’ he said, ‘to do so. We have the men already; for when Valerius armed the people for the recovery of the Capitol, every man took the oath to parade upon orders from the consul and to remain on service till orders came for his dismissal. Our instructions therefore are that all of you who took the military oath of obedience present yourselves, armed, at Lake Regillus tomorrow.’ The tribunes, in the hope of releasing the men from their obligation, resorted to the quibble that Quinctius was not actually in office when the oath was administered. Fortunately, however, in those days authority, both religious and secular, was still a guide to conduct, and there was as yet no sign of our modern scepticism which interprets solemn compacts, such as are embodied in an oath or a law, to suit its own convenience. The tribunes, accordingly, were forced to give up hope of directly thwarting the consul’s design; instead, they did what they could to postpone the departure of the troops – and all the more eagerly in that a rumour was abroad that the augurs had received instructions to go to Lake Regillus; this meant that, after all due and proper formalities, political questions would be able to be brought up there for public discussion, with the object of repealing by popular vote any measures which had been forced through by the tribunes in Rome. Everyone, they were convinced, would vote as the consuls wished, for there was no right of appeal outside a radius of one mile from the City, and the tribunes themselves, if they were present, would be subject like everybody else to the consular authority. All this was alarming enough; but worst of all was the fact that Quinctius was continually saying that he did not intend to hold the consular election, because, in his view, the country was much too sick to be cured by ordinary remedies: what was needed was a dictator. Political troublemakers would soon realize the fact that from the word of a dictator there was no appeal.
A meeting of the Senate was held on the Capitol; thither went the tribunes followed by an excited crowd, who with a deal of noise and shouting called upon the consuls and the members of the Senate to stand by them, but were unable for all their importunity to turn Quinctius from his purpose, until the tribunes had guaranteed to submit to the Senate’s authority. Thereupon Quinctius brought up the demands of the tribunes and of the people, and a resolution was passed forbidding the tribunes, on the one hand, to proceed with the law that year, and the consuls, on the other, to take troops out of the city. As for the future, it was, in the Senate’s opinion, contrary to the national interest that the same person, whether a tribune or anyone else, should hold office for successive terms.
In spite of the protests of the consuls, who were forced to acquiesce in the Senate’s authority, the tribunes were re–elected, and the Senate, to allow no advantage in the game to their opponents, were anxious to secure the return of Quinctius to the consulship the following year. Quinctius, however, resisted this measure in the most uncompromising speech he had made since his election. ‘Can I be surprised, gentlemen,’ he said, ‘that you have little authority over the commons? Your own actions nullify it: because the commons ignore a decree of the Senate against the re–election of magistrates, is that a reason for your wishing to do the same? Do you wish to compete with the commons in disregard of principle? Or imagine that political power is commensurate with irresponsibility? It was your decree, not theirs; and to ignore one’s own declared policy is, for sheer levity, worse than to fly in the face of a measure passed by somebody else. You are merely copying the mob – whom no one expects to be politically adult; you are taking your cue in folly from the very people to whom you should be an example of political rectitude. Well, do as you will: I at least refuse to follow the tribunes’ lead or to allow myself to be re–elected in contravention of the Senate’s decree. As for you, Gaius Claudius, I beg you to put every restraint upon this irresponsible behaviour; and you may rest assured that I shall not resent your standing in the way of my election: on the contrary, I shall feel my reputation enhanced by my refusal of office, when standing for a second term would only have brought odium upon me.’
The two consuls then issued a joint edict that no one should vote for Quinctius in the consular election, and that if anyone did so his vote should be discounted. The consuls actually elected were Quintus Fabius Vibulanus and Lucius Cornelius Maluginensis. The former had held the office on two previous occasions. This year a census was held, but it was felt more proper to omit the usual ceremony of purification, because of the capture of the Capitol and the death in battle of the consul Valerius.
The new year was from its inception a stormy one. Apart from continued efforts by the tribunes to rouse the commons to revolt, there were reports from the Latins and Hernici of hostile preparations on a large scale by the Volscians and Aequians. Volscian troops, it was said, were already at Antium, and there was acute anxiety lest the Antiates themselves should break their allegiance to Rome. In these dangerous circumstances it was only with difficulty that the tribunes were persuaded to allow national defence to take precedence over party politics.
In the operations which followed it fell to Fabius to command the army in the field, while Cornelius remained in Rome in case the Aequians should repeat their usual tactic of sending raiding–parties into the vicinity. The Latins and Hernici were called upon to furnish men according to the terms of their treaty, and the resulting force consisted of two–thirds allied troops and one–third Roman. Once the allied contingents had joined, Fabius moved from Rome and encamped outside the Capena Gate, where the ceremony of purification was performed; he then marched for Antium and took up a position near the town and the permanent camp of the enemy. The Volscians, who had not yet been joined by their Aequian allies, did not venture to offer battle but remained on the defensive within their fortifications. The initiative was taken by Fabius, who on the following day divided his force into its national units–Latin, Hernican, and Roman – each under its own officer, and ordered it into position close to the enemy’s outer line of defence. He himself took the centre, in command of the contingent from Rome. His orders then were for all three divisions to watch for the signal, to ensure that the assault should be simultaneous – and also the withdrawal, if the order to withdraw should be given. Each division was supported by its cavalry, stationed in its rear. The attack, when it came, was thus simultaneous on three sides, and it was delivered with such vigour that the Volscian defenders were flung back from their position on the outer rampart, and Fabius’s troops, forcing their way over all the defences, drove the remainder in a disorderly rout before them until the whole camp was cleared. The cavalry, unable to get over the rampart, had, up to this point, played little more than a spectator’s part in the action. Now it came into its own: in the open ground it rode down the more or less helpless fugitives, and thus enjoyed its share of the victory. Both inside the camp and during the subsequent pursuit the enemy losses were heavy; but the quantity of plunder which fell into Fabius’s hands was even more remarkable, as the enemy had been able to take nothing with them, scarcely even their arms. Had they not found shelter in the woods, they would have perished to a man.
The Aequians, meanwhile, had proceeded against Tusculum; picked troops by an unexpected attack under cover of darkness had captured the inner fortress of the town, and the rest of the force, to distract and disperse the defence, had taken up a position not far from the walls. News of the operation quickly reached Rome, and was passed on to the army at Antium. The effect of it was hardly less than if the Capitol itself had been taken; every man had fresh in memory the service Tusculum had rendered, and now she was herself in similar peril. The debt of honour must assuredly be repaid. In Fabius’s mind there was but one thought: hurriedly conveying the material captured in the Volscian camp to Antium, he detailed a party to guard it and set off with all possible speed for Tusculum. The men were forbidden to take anything with them beyond their weapons and such bread as happened to be on hand: further supplies were to be sent from Rome by the other consul, Cornelius.
The campaign continued for some months; part of his forces Fabius employed in operations against the entrenched position of the enemy outside the town, the remainder were turned over to the Tusculans to attempt the recovery of the inner fortress, which nevertheless proved too strong to be carried by assault. Eventually, however, the invaders were starved out, and, unable to hold out longer for lack of supplies, were stripped of their arms and equipment and sent ‘under the yoke’. They then set out for home, a shamed and beaten army, but were caught by the Roman consul on the slopes of Algidus and all killed. The victorious Fabius withdrew to a place called Columen and there encamped, while his colleague Cornelius, now that the threat to Rome was removed, also took the field. Enemy territory was thus invaded simultaneously at two points, and the Volscians and Aequians became the unhappy victims of the two consuls’ rivalry in destruction.
I find in most records that in the course of this year Antium revolted and that the situation was dealt with by Cornelius, who captured the town. However I should not venture to state this as a fact, as there is no mention of it in the older chroniclers.
The campaign was no sooner over than the senatorial party had to face another – this time against the tribunes, who accused them of sharp practice in keeping the army in the field with the deliberate intention of stopping the passage of the law, and reaffirmed, at the same time, their determination to see the matter through. Lucius Lucretius, however, the City Prefect, held out for the postponement of any measures the tribunes might take until the return of the consuls to Rome. A fresh cause of disquiet was the prosecution of Marcus Volscius by the quaestors Cornelius and Servilius on a charge of giving patently false evidence at the trial of Caeso. It was becoming known from many sources that Volscius’s brother had never appeared in public from the moment he fell ill; indeed, he had never even left his bed, but after lingering many months had died of a consumption; moreover, throughout the period to which the witness had referred the crime, Caeso had not once been seen in Rome; many who had served with him stated that he had been constantly with them in the lines, and had never been home on leave. To prove this, many offered Volscius to refer the decision to a private arbitrator, and his refusal to accept the offer told heavily against him: in fact his refusal, added to the other confirmatory evidence, made his condemnation as certain as his own evidence had made Caeso’s. Once again, however, the tribunes employed their delaying tactics and declared that they would permit the quaestors to hold an assembly for the trial only on condition that they first held one to discuss the passage of the law. Both matters, accordingly, were kept in abeyance till the consuls’ return.
The two consuls with their victorious army entered the city in triumph, and, as nothing for the moment was said about the law, most people supposed that the tribunes had received a set–back. However, they had other plans; the official year was nearly over, and they were anxious to secure a fourth successive term, and with this object in mind they shifted their ground from the dispute over the law to a dispute over the coming elections. The consuls were as violently opposed to the principle of successive tenures of the tribunate as they would have been if a measure had been proposed with the express purpose of curtailing their own authority; but their opposition was unavailing and the tribunes carried the day.
During this year the Aequians asked for, and obtained, a treaty of peace. The previous year’s census was completed – it was the tenth lustral sacrifice to be celebrated since the city was founded. The number of people registered was 117,319. It was a year in which the consuls won high distinction at home and abroad; their military campaigns they brought to a successful conclusion, and the political atmosphere at home they at any rate improved. The troubles were not over, but they were less acute than at other times.
The consuls for the following year, Lucius Minutius and Gaius Nautius, inherited the two main problems of their predecessors. They continued, as before, to obstruct the passage of the law, while the tribunes continued to obstruct Volscius’s trial. Now, however, there were new quaestors – Marcus Valerius, son of Manlius and grandson of Volesus, and Titus Quinctius Capitolinus, who had thrice been consul – and both were men of outstanding personality and influence. Capitolinus, unable any longer to restore Caeso to his family or the greatest of her young men to his bereaved country, yet honoured the ties of kinship by unremitting warfare against the perjuror who had robbed an innocent man of the power of defending himself against a false charge. Of the tribunes, Verginius was the most active in working for the passage of the law; nevertheless the consuls managed to obtain two months’ respite to examine its implications, after which they were to explain their views to the people on the sinister consequences it might involve, and then – and only then – allow them to vote. This was, at least, a breathing–space, and tranquillity was for the time being restored; but it was not to last long, for the Aequians broke the treaty of peace which had been made the previous year, entrusting the command of their renewed offensive to their most distinguished soldier, Cloelius Gracchus. Under Gracchus they invaded the territory of Labici, whence they proceeded to Tusculum, doing heavy damage in both places and carrying off much valuable property; they then fortified a position on Algidus, where they were visited by Fabius, Volumnius, and Postumius, who came as envoys from Rome to lodge a complaint and demand restitution, according to the terms of the treaty.
Close by Gracchus’s headquarters was an enormous oak, whose branches gave a cool and pleasant shade. When the Roman envoys arrived, Gracchus said to them: ‘Give the Senate’s message to that tree there – I happen to be otherwise engaged.’ The envoys turned to go, and one of them before he left exclaimed: ‘May this holy tree and whatever gods there are hear me when I declare that it is you who have broken the treaty between us; may they listen now to our words, and give strength to our hands when, as soon we shall, we avenge the violation of all that should be sacred to God and man.’
The Senate, on the envoys’ return, instructed one consul to proceed against Gracchus and the other to direct an invasion of Aequian territory. The tribunes proved true to form by trying to obstruct the raising of troops – and might, indeed, have succeeded, had not a fresh cause for alarm presented itself in an unexpected move by the Sabines. A large force of these people penetrated nearly to the walls of Rome; crops in the countryside were ruined and everyone in the City felt his safety seriously threatened. In these circumstances the commons were willing enough to enlist and despite the tribunes’ protests two large armies were enrolled, one of which, under Nautius’s command, took the field against the Sabines. Nautius fortified a position at Eretum and proceeded to send out a series of raiding–parties, usually under cover of darkness, into enemy territory; these parties, none of which was numerically strong, did so much damage that the Sabine raids on Roman territory seemed to have been comparatively harmless. Minucius, on the other hand, whether by ill luck or lack of enterprise, was less successful than his colleague; for after an unsuccessful, but quite minor, engagement he refused to take any further risks and stayed within the fortifications of his camp, not far from the enemy lines. Such timidity, naturally enough, was a fillip to the enemy’s confidence, and they boldly attacked Minucius’s camp during the night. The attack failed, but next day they set to work to wall him in with earthworks; before these were completed and every exit barred, five men were ordered out to ride through the enemy posts and carry to Rome the news that the consul and his army were under siege. Nothing could have been more unexpected. The city was thrown into a state of turmoil, and the general alarm was as great as if Rome herself were surrounded. Nautius was sent for, but it was quickly decided that he was not the man to inspire full confidence; the situation evidently called for a dictator, and, with no dissentient voice, Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus was named for the post.
Now I would solicit the particular attention of those numerous people who imagine that money is everything in this world, and that rank and ability are inseparable from wealth: let them observe that Cincinnatus, the one man in whom Rome reposed all her hope of survival, was at that moment working a little three–acre farm (now known as the Quinctian meadows) west of the Tiber, just opposite the spot where the shipyards are today. A mission from the city found him at work on his land – digging a ditch, maybe, or ploughing. Greetings were exchanged, and he was asked – with a prayer for God’s blessing on himself and his country – to put on his toga and hear the Senate’s instructions. This naturally surprised him, and, asking if all were well, he told his wife Racilia to run to their cottage and fetch his toga. The toga was brought, and wiping the grimy sweat from his hands and face he put it on; at once the envoys from the city saluted him, with congratulations, as Dictator, invited him to enter Rome, and informed him of the terrible danger of Minucius’s army. A state vessel was waiting for him on the river, and on the city bank he was welcomed by his three sons who had come to meet him, then by other kinsmen and friends, and finally by nearly the whole body of senators. Closely attended by all these people and preceded by his lictors he was then escorted to his residence through streets lined with great crowds of common folk who, be it said, were by no means so pleased to see the new Dictator, as they thought his power excessive and dreaded the way in which he was likely to use it.
Next day, after a quiet night in which nothing was done beyond keeping careful watch, the Dictator was in the Forum before dawn. He appointed as his Master of Horse a patrician named Lucius Tarquitius – a man who had the reputation of being the best soldier in Rome, in spite of the fact that he was too poor to keep a horse and had served, in consequence, as an infantryman. Accompanied by Tarquitius, the Dictator then appeared before the assembled people, to issue his instructions: legal business was to be suspended, all shops closed and no private business of any kind transacted; all men of military age were to parade before sunset in the Campus Martius with their equipment, each man bringing with him a five days’ bread ration and twelve stakes. All men over military age were to prepare the food for their younger neighbours, who would employ themselves meanwhile in looking over their equipment and collecting their stakes.
The Dictator’s orders were promptly executed: stakes were hunted out by the soldiers and taken from wherever they were found, nobody objecting to their removal; every man presented himself punctually. Then column of march was formed, all prepared, should need arise, for instant action, and moved off with Cincinnatus at the head of the infantry and Tarquitius in command of the mounted troops.
In each division, infantry and cavalry, could be heard such words of command or encouragement as the occasion demanded: the men were urged to step out, reminded of the need for haste, in order to reach the scene of action that night, pressed to remember that a Roman army with its commander had already been three days under siege; no one could tell what the next day or the next night might bring, and events of tremendous import often hung upon a single moment of time. The men themselves, too, to show their spirit and gratify their officers, exhorted each other to every effort, shouting to the standard–bearer to move faster and to their companions to follow him.
At midnight the army reached Algidus and halted not far from the enemy’s position. The Dictator rode round it on his horse, to inform himself, so far as he could in the darkness, of the extent and lay–out of their camp, and then ordered his officers to instruct their men to pile their baggage in a selected spot and return to their ranks with only their weapons and the stakes which each was carrying. Then, in the same formation as on the march from Rome – a long column, that is – he so manoeuvred them as to form a complete ring round the enemy’s position. Their orders then were to raise the war–cry on a given signal, and then to begin digging, each man at the spot where he stood, and to fix his stakes, so as to form a continuous trench and palisade. The signal soon came and the work began. The shout which rose from the Romans’ throats told the enemy that they were surrounded, and carried beyond their lines into the beleaguered camp of Minucius, bringing alarm to the one and joy to the other. Minucius’s men knew it was the voice of friends; with satisfaction and relief they told each other that help had come, and their sentries and outposts began to assume the offensive. Minucius himself, aware that instant action was vital, urged that the welcome cry meant not only that their friends had come but that they were already engaged, and had almost certainly started an assault on the outer ring of the enemy’s position. So he ordered his men to draw their swords and follow him.
It was still dark when the fight began, and the relieving troops of Cincinnatus knew by the war–cry of their beleaguered friends that they, too, were in action at last.
The Aequians were preparing to resist the work of circumvallation, when Minucius started his offensive. To prevent his troops from forcing a way right through their lines, they were compelled to turn inward to face them, thus withdrawing their attention from the troops of the Dictator, who were, in consequence, left free to continue all night the construction of their trench and palisade. The battle with Minucius lasted till dawn; by that time the circumvallation was completed, and Minucius’s men were beginning to get the upper hand. For the Aequians the moment was critical: the Dictator’s troops, their work finished, promptly began an assault on the outer defences, thus forcing the Aequians to fight on a second front while still heavily engaged on the first. Caught as it were between the two fires, they soon gave up the struggle and begged both Cincinnatus and Minucius not to proceed to a general massacre but to disarm them and let them go with their lives. Minucius referred them to the Dictator, who accepted their surrender, but on humiliating terms: their commander Gracchus, with other leading men, was to be brought before him in chains; the town of Corbio was to be evacuated; the Aequian soldiers were to be allowed to go with their lives, but, to force a final confession of absolute defeat, they were to pass ‘under the yoke’. A ‘yoke’ was made from three spears, two fixed upright in the ground and the third tied across them, and the Aequian soldiers were made to pass under it.
As the Aequians had been stripped before their dismissal, their camp, when it fell into the Dictator’s hands, was found to contain much valuable property. All this Cincinnatus turned over to his own men exclusively; Minucius’s men, and Minucius himself, got nothing. ‘You,’ the Dictator remarked severely, ‘shall have no share of the plunder taken from an enemy who nearly took you.’ Then, turning to Minucius, he added: ‘Until, Lucius Minucius, you learn to behave like a consul and commander, you will act as my lieutenant and take your instructions from me.’
Minucius resigned the consulship and remained with his troops as second in command; his men were quick to appreciate the military qualities of the Dictator, and gave him implicit obedience; they forgot their disgrace in the memory of the service he had done them, and voted him a gold circlet of a pound in weight, and when he left them saluted him as their protector.
In Rome the Senate was convened by Quintus Fabius, the City Prefect, and a decree was passed inviting Cincinnatus to enter in triumph with his troops. The chariot he rode in was preceded by the enemy commanders and the military standards, and followed by his army loaded with its spoils. We read in accounts of this great day that there was not a house in Rome but had a table spread with food before its door, for the entertainment of the soldiers who regaled themselves as they followed the triumphal chariot, singing and joking as befitted the occasion, like men out to enjoy themselves. The same day Mamilius of Tusculum by universal consent was granted Roman citizenship.
Only the impending trial of Volscius for perjury prevented Cincinnatus from resigning immediately. The tribunes who were thoroughly in awe of him made no attempt to interfere with the proceedings, and Volscius was found guilty and went into exile at Lanuvium. Cincinnatus finally resigned after holding office for fifteen days, having originally accepted it for a period of six months. Nautius, meanwhile, fought a successful action against the Sabines, adding defeat in the field to what they had already suffered from the previous raids. Quintus Fabius was sent to relieve Minucius on Algidus. At the close of the year the question of the law was again brought forward by the tribunes, but the Senate succeeded in preventing the submission of any measure to the popular vote on the ground that two armies were absent from Rome. The commons scored a point in obtaining the election of the same tribunes for a fifth term. Wolves are said to have been seen this year on the Capitol: they were being chased by dogs. It was taken as an ominous sign and the Capitol was officially ‘purified’.
The next year, with Quintus Minucius and Gaius Horatius Pulvillus as consuls, began without trouble from foreign enemies, though political warfare continued as before. There was the old cause of dispute and the same tribunes to keep it alive. Passions were so inflamed that this time things might have gone to greater lengths but for what was, in the circumstances, the providential news of a night attack by the Aequians on Corbio, and the loss of the garrison. The Senate was convened, and the consuls received instructions to raise an emergency force and proceed at once to Algidus. The business of the law was for the moment shelved, but a fresh dispute arose, as always, about the raising of troops, and the efforts of the tribunes to obstruct it, in opposition to the consular authority, were on the point of succeeding when a further alarming report arrived that a Sabine force had descended upon Roman territory and was approaching the city. The tribunes had then no option but to let the recruiting go through, though only on condition that their number should thenceforward be increased to ten – a demand which they justified on the ground that, as they had been baffled for the past five years in their attempts to get Terentillus’s proposal passed into law, the support they were able with their present numbers to give the popular cause was not adequate. The Senate agreed under pressure of circumstances, but stipulated that re–election of the same tribunes should not continue. To prevent this concession from being revoked, as others had been, when the campaign was over, elections were held immediately, and ten tribunes, two from each class – an arrangement which it was decided should become permanent – were appointed. Since the election of the first tribunes thirty–five years had passed.
Troops were then enrolled; Minucius proceeded against the Sabines but made no contact with them; the Aequians who, after butchering the garrison at Corbio, had taken the town of Ortona, were successfully engaged by Horatius on Algidus. Their losses were heavy and they were forced to withdraw not only from Algidus but from Corbio and Ortona as well. Horatius razed Corbio to the ground in revenge for its betrayal of the garrison.
The following year, when Marcus Valerius and Spurius Verginius succeeded to the consulship, was uneventful both at home and abroad. A wet season made grain very scarce, and a measure was passed opening the Aventine to settlement; the same tribunes were re–elected to office, and in the year which followed, in the consulship of Titus Romilius and Gaius Veturius, they lost no opportunity of urging the passage of the law, repeating, in all their public speeches, that they would be ashamed of the pointless increase of their number if during the two years of their office this vital measure received no further advancement than in the preceding five.
The agitation was at its height, when the alarming news arrived that the Aequians were on Tusculan soil. In view of Tusculum’s recent services to Rome honour demanded that aid should be sent immediately, so both consuls were ordered out. They made contact with the enemy on Algidus, their usual base; in the engagement which followed the Aequians were heavily defeated, losing more than 7,000 men and a great deal of material and equipment, all of which the consuls sold, to replenish the depleted treasury. The sale, however, was not approved by the troops, and the tribunes jumped on it as an excuse for prosecuting the consuls, both of whom, accordingly, as soon as their year of office was over, were called to appear in court. The tribune Claudius Cicero acted as plaintiff against Romilius, and Alienus, the aedile, against Veturius. In both cases, to the great indignation of the senatorial party, the verdict was guilty, Romilius being fined 10,000 asses, Veturius 15,000.
The new consuls, Spurius Tarpeius and Aulus Aternius, continued their opposition undismayed by their predecessors’ misfortune, declaring that they were quite prepared to be found guilty by the courts, but that the one thing which could never happen was the passage of the law by the people and tribunes. Finally, out of sheer disgust and weariness, the whole question was allowed to drop, and the tribunes began to adopt a less provocative attitude. They called, at long last, for a truce in the struggle, and suggested that, if the Senate disliked popular legislation, both parties might unite in allowing the appointment of a board of legislators, consisting of plebeians and patricians, serving jointly, and qualified to propose measures which should benefit both parties and secure the liberties of each.
The Senate was prepared to accept this suggestion in principle, though it insisted that the right to propose a law should rest solely with the patricians. This being the only point in dispute, and the principle being accepted by both sides, three representatives, Spurius Postumius Albus, Aulus Manlius, and Publius Sulpicius Camerinus, were sent to Athens with instructions to take down in writing the laws of Solon and acquaint themselves with the way of life and the political institutions of other Greek communities.
The year, with no threats from abroad, had been a quiet one, and the next, when Publius Curiatius and Sextus Quinctilius succeeded to the consulship, was quieter still. From the tribunes there was not a word – a silence due, first, to the fact that they were waiting for the commissioners to bring back their report from Athens, and, secondly, to two terrible disasters – famine and plague – which had simultaneously struck the country down. Men and cattle suffered equally; farms were devastated; death after death drained the city’s strength. Many distinguished families were in mourning: Servius Cornelius, Priest of Quirinus, and the augur, Gaius Horatius Pulvillus, died. To succeed the latter the augurs appointed Gaius Veturius – and were the more glad to do so because of this recent condemnation by the people. The consul Quinctilius died too, and four of the tribunes. It was a gloomy year, but free, at least, from the distress of foreign wars.
The new consuls were Gaius Menenius and Publius Sestius Capitolinus; this year, like the last, was undisturbed by foreign wars, though there was a recurrence of political strife. The return of the commission from Athens with a copy of Solon’s laws led the tribunes to redouble their insistence that a beginning should at last be made upon the task of reducing Roman law to a written code, and to this end it was decided to abolish, for the one year, all the normal offices of government and to appoint instead decemvirs –a Board of Ten –who should not be subject to appeal. There was a certain amount of argument about whether men not of patrician birth should be allowed to serve, but the senatorial party finally carried their point, on the understanding that the Icilian law about the Aventine and all ‘sacred’ laws – those, namely, the breach of which carried the penalty of outlawry – should not be abrogated.
Thus it happened that 302 years after the foundation of Rome the form of government was for the second time changed; once power had passed from kings to consuls, now it passed from consuls to decemvirs. This second change, however, was less important than the first, as it proved of short duration; for the Board of Ten, after a flourishing start, soon proved itself a barren tree – all wood and no fruit – so that it did not last, and the custom was resumed of entrusting two men with the name and authority of consuls.
The decemvirs were the following: Appius Claudius, Titus Genucius, Publius Sestius, Lucius Veturius, Gaius Julius, Aulus Manlius, Publius Sulpicius, Publius Curiatius, Titus Romilius, and Spurius Postumius. Claudius and Genucius were elected by way of recognition of the fact that they were consuls designate for the year, and Sestius, who had been consul the year before, because he had brought the measure before the Senate in spite of the opposition of his colleague. Next were the three commissioners who had gone to Athens: these were chosen partly as a reward for having taken so long a journey in the public service, and partly because it was felt that their knowledge of foreign institutions would be of value in helping them to frame a new code. The other four had no special qualifications – it is said that old men were chosen, as being likely to offer vigorous opposition to the proposals of their colleagues. The leading spirit of the whole Board was Appius, and it was to his popularity with the commons that he owed his influence – a remarkable change, indeed, in a man who had once been their most violent persecutor and opponent; but he had assumed, for the moment, a new character, stepping, all of a sudden, on to the stage as the People’s Friend, and catching at every breath of popular applause.
The decemvirs sat in the courts in rotation, one each day, and the one on duty was attended by twelve lictors, his nine colleagues by a single orderly only. Amongst themselves they maintained an absolute harmony – such as has proved, on occasion, by no means to the advantage of the mass of a population which has no share in government; but at the same time their decisions were always perfectly fair and unprejudiced. A single example will serve: a corpse was found buried in the house of a patrician named Publius Sestius and produced before the assembly. Sestius’s guilt was as obvious as the crime was atrocious, yet the decemvir Julius, who had the legal right to pronounce summary judgement, summoned him to trial and himself appeared before the people as his prosecutor. By this act Julius surrendered his own prerogative, increasing the liberty of the subject by deliberately curtailing the power vested in himself by virtue of his office. And all this, be it remembered, in spite of the fact that by law there was no right of appeal from the Board of Ten.
This prompt justice, of an almost superhuman purity and enjoyed alike by the highest and lowest in the country, was one aspect of the decemvirs’ work; at the same time they were busy with framing a code, until a day came when, in the midst of tremendous public excitement, they published ten Tables of Law and, with a solemn prayer for heaven’s blessing on themselves, their country, and their children, invited the whole population of Rome to come and read the statutes which were there offered for approval. They were anxious to impress everyone with their conviction that, though they had been completely impartial so far as the wits of ten men could foresee how their provisions would work out, many minds engaged upon the problem might well have important contributions to make; it was their wish, therefore, that every citizen should first quietly consider each point, then talk it over with his friends, and, finally, bring forward for public discussion any additions or subtractions which seemed desirable. The object was for Rome to have laws which every individual citizen could feel he had not only consented to accept, but had actually himself proposed. Certain amendments were made, and when, to judge by what people were saying about the various sections of the new code, it had been reduced to as great a perfection as was possible, a meeting of the comitia centuriata – or Assembly by Centuries – was held and the Laws of the Ten Tables were adopted, which still today remain the fountainhead of public and private law, running clear under the immense and complicated superstructure of modern legislation. It was soon generally believed that, to complete the whole corpus of Roman Law, two Tables were lacking, and the hope of remedying this deficiency underlay the desire, as election day approached, of appointing decemvirs again, for the following year. The commons, moreover, who hated the word ‘consul’ as bitterly as the word ‘king’, had already ceased to look for support from the tribunes, because the decemvirs themselves were seldom rigid in their judgements, but, when an application was made to one of their number against the decision of another, the latter would usually give way.
The election was announced to take place in twenty–four days’ time. Canvassing began, and was conducted with passionate urgency: even the leading men in Rome – from fear, no doubt, that, if they stood aside, a position which involved such tremendous power might pass into unworthy hands – could be seen in the streets buttonholing passers–by and humbly soliciting the votes of their old enemy the mob for an office which they themselves had exerted all their influence in opposing. As for Appius, the risk, at his time of life and after such a distinguished career, of losing his position goaded him to feverish activity, hardly compatible with the dignity of a decemvir. Indeed his behaviour was more like that of a candidate seeking election than of a magistrate in office: he blackened the character of the nobility, sang the praises of all the most socially disreputable and insignificant candidates, hung about the Forum in the company of ex–tribunes like Duellius and Icilius, by way of advertisement to sell himself to the mob, until even his colleagues, who till then had been his most devoted adherents, could not but raise an eyebrow and wonder what it all could mean. That there was a crack somewhere was all too clear: Appius was a proud man, and such excessive affability to inferiors could hardly be without some ulterior motive; such deliberate and self–conscious humility, such determination to reduce himself to the level of the populace hardly suggested a man in a hurry to retire from office – it was suspiciously characteristic of someone anxious to serve another term. The other decemvirs, not venturing openly to oppose his desire for re–election, tried to blunt the edge of it by a show of complaisance, and unanimously offered him, as their youngest colleague, the honour of presiding at the election – a piece of policy intended to prevent him from declaring himself elected, a thing which nobody except tribunes had ever done, and which, even in their case, was the worst possible precedent. Appius, however, was equal to the occasion: with the customary prayer for heaven’s blessing, he accepted the presidency and then proceeded to turn his disability to his own advantage; by a collusive redistribution of votes he succeeded in keeping out the two Quinctii, Capitolinus and Cincinnatus, his uncle Gaius Claudius, a firm supporter of the aristocratic cause, and certain other equally outstanding men, and procured the election of infinitely less distinguished candidates, with himself at the head of the list. Nobody had believed he would dare to do it; however, it was done – and the impropriety of such conduct was clear to all who had any sense of political decency. Appius’s colleagues were the following: Marcus Cornelius Maluginensis, Marcus Sergius, Lucius Minucius, Quintus Fabius Vibulanus, Quintus Poetilius, Titus Antonius Merenda, Caeso Duellius, Spurius Oppius Cornicen, Manlius Rabuleius.
From that moment Appius threw off the mask and showed his true character. At once, even before their term of office began, he set about the task of moulding his colleagues to his own pattern. Every day there were private meetings; plans for getting into their hands absolute and irresponsible power were secretly matured; they began openly to display arrogance, to refuse interviews without strict formalities, to be cold and repellent in conversation. And so it went on until 15 May, the date (in that period) upon which new magistrates entered upon office.
The day, the very first of their office, was made memorable by a terrifying revelation. Their predecessors had limited the ‘rods’ – the emblem of royal power – to one of their members at a time, each enjoying in rotation this signal mark of the dignity of his office; now, without any preparations, all ten of them appeared in public, attended each by his own twelve lictors. The Forum was crowded with lictors a hundred and twenty of them; and, what was more, they carried axes bound up with their rods, an ominous sign which was taken as emphasizing the fact that there was no right of appeal. Had they been ten kings, the menace would have been no more terrible; and the fear they inspired in high and low alike was intensified by the belief that what they most desired was a pretext for beginning their bloody reign that if anyone in the Senate or the streets spoke a word for liberty, the rods and axes would promptly be made ready, if only to teach the rest a bitter lesson. The right of appeal was gone; the people could no longer help a fellow–citizen wrongfully accused; moreover the new tyrants had agreed never to upset each others’ decisions – unlike the first decemvirs, who had allowed their judgements to be modified on appeal to a colleague, and had even, on occasion, referred matters which might well have been thought to be within their own competence to a popular vote.
For a time one class seemed to have as much to fear as another; but little by little the whole weight of the terror began to turn against the commons. The nobility was spared, while the humbler folk were subjected to treatment at once arbitrary and brutal. For the decemvirs, personal favour was equated with justice; the man was everything, the cause nothing. They cooked up their decisions in the privacy of their homes, and pronounced them in the Forum; if a man ventured to appeal from one to another, he went away sorry that he had not accepted the judgement of the first. Worse still, there was a rumour abroad that this evil conspiracy was no temporary affair, but that the decemvirs had bound each other by a secret oath not to hold elections but by making the decemvirate permanent to keep for ever the power they had acquired. This was the fear which made common men in the streets look with anxious inquiry into the faces of the patricians, hoping to catch some breath of liberty even from their one–time enemies and dreaded masters, by terror of whose tyranny they had brought the country to its present pass. As for the senatorial party, its leaders hated the decemvirs as much as they hated the populace; they could not like the way things were going, though they felt at the same time that the commons were getting what they deserved, and were in consequence unwilling to help them. Their blind and greedy stampede for liberty had ended in servitude – very well: might it not be best to allow their sufferings to accumulate, till in utter desperation they came to wish the old days back again, with two consuls and everything as it used to be?
In the latter part of the year the two supplementary Tables of Laws were added to the existing ten, so that once they were passed, as the previous ones had been, by the Centuriate Assembly, there would be no further legal justification for continuing the decemvirate, and everyone was waiting to see how soon a date would be announced for the consular elections. The one thing which worried the popular party was how they were to recover the bulwark of their liberties, the tribunate, which had been suspended. Meanwhile, however, there was no mention of an election; the decemvirs, who had begun, as a popular gesture, by ostentatiously showing themselves in the company of ex–tribunes, had now taken to going about with an escort of young nobles. Groups of them blocked the tribunals; they bullied and robbed the commons; luck went to the strong – and if they wanted anything, they took it. Soon the rods began to be used: men were beaten, others executed. Cruelty had its reward, and, often enough, a victim’s property was turned over to his murderer. The decemvirs’ young toadies were easily corrupted by such pay, and, far from making any attempt to check their masters’ brutal conduct, openly rejoiced in it; for them, personal immunity in crime was a more agreeable thing than national liberty.
15 May – election day – came. Technically, the decemvirs’ term of office was over; but no new magistrates were nominated, and the Ten appeared in public with the same ruthless determination to dominate, and still with the insignia which symbolized their power. This was tyranny confessed, and nothing could any longer disguise it. Men mourned for liberty now gone for ever; no champion, it seemed, now or hereafter, would step forward in her defence.
Rome’s spirit was crushed; but that was not all, for the nations beyond her borders were now beginning to despise her and to resent the fact that a slave state – as they thought her – should exercise imperial power. The Sabines invaded Roman territory with a considerable force, doing much damage, driving off cattle, and taking prisoners without encountering resistance; they then withdrew to Eretum, where they fortified a position, confidently expecting that political discord in Rome would prove their best ally, and prevent troops being raised. The messengers who brought the news were quickly followed by refugees from burnt–out farms, crowding the City and spreading dismay. The decemvirs met to deliberate, alone –the solitary Ten, hated by all alike. Then came a second alarm: the Aequians, from the eastward, occupied Algidus and began to use it as a base for raids on Tusculum, whence messengers hurried to Rome with a request for assistance.
With the City threatened on two sides, the decemvirs were badly shaken; driven to face the necessity of consulting the Senate, they issued orders for the members to be called, well aware of the storm clouds of hatred which were gathering over their heads. Nothing could be clearer than that the whole responsibility for the devastation of Roman territory and for the other dangers which now threatened would be laid to their charge, and that this would lead to an attempt to get rid of the decemvirate, unless they offered a united resistance and forestalled any concerted move against them by savage repression of the few bold spirits who seemed likely to take the initiative.
It was so long since the Senate had been convened for consultation that the voice of the crier in the streets calling the members to attend came to people almost like a memory from the distant past; they wondered what could have happened that their new rulers should suddenly revive a custom long fallen into abeyance, and were inclined to be grateful to the action of an enemy, which apparently allowed something, at any rate, to be done in accordance with free institutions. They looked in every corner of the Forum to see if they could recognize a senator, but hardly one was to be found; then they turned their eyes upon the Senate House and its empty benches, the decemvirs sitting there alone – a state of things which they put down to the fact that the decemvirs, not legally holding office, had not the right of convening a meeting, while the decemvirs themselves took it as a sign of the hatred in which their tyrannical domination was held. The moment was propitious, and the first step in the struggle to regain liberty might have been taken, if only the commons and the Senate had been willing to work together, the commons refusing to enlist just as the Senate had ignored the order to meet. This was what the popular party wanted, though they did not openly express their desire; but the patricians had nearly all left Rome; in public not one was to be seen, for finding the political situation unendurable the great majority of them had gone to their country estates, where they were occupying themselves with their private affairs, in the belief that the greater the distance between themselves and their tyrannical masters, the better was their chance of escaping injury and insult.
Finding their summons ignored, the decemvirs sent their officers to the senators’ houses with the double purpose of collecting fines and of ascertaining if the refusal to attend had been deliberate. The officers reported that the senators were in the country, which the decemvirs were better pleased to hear than they would have been, had the members been in Rome and deliberately disobeyed the order. They then issued a second order, and announced a meeting for the following day. It was somewhat better attended than they expected, which the commons felt as a betrayal of liberty, as the senators had obeyed the summons of men who, apart from force, no longer held any official position just as if it had legal sanction behind it. We are told, however, that the views expressed during the session by no means matched the submissiveness shown by members in consenting to atttend; it is on record, for instance, that Lucius Valerius Potitus, after Appius Claudius had proposed his motion and before comments were asked for from the House, demanded leave to debate the political situation, and, when the decemvirs, with threats, refused, raised an uproar by declaring that he would go before the people. Marcus Horatius Barbatus crossed swords no less courageously, calling the decemvirs ten Tarquins and reminding them that it was under the leadership of the Valerii and Horatii that the kings had been expelled: it was not, he declared, the name of king that men resented in those days – how could it be, when religious orthodoxy applied it to Jupiter, when Romulus, their Founder, and his successors bore the name, which was still, moreover, used as the title of a religious functionary? No; what men hated was not the name of king but his pride and his violence. If these evil things were felt to be intolerable in a king or the son of a king, who was likely to endure them in men who held no legal office at all? They had better beware, he continued, lest by forbidding free speech in the Senate they set tongues wagging in the streets. Since neither he nor they held any official position, was it less legal for him to call a mass meeting of the people than for them to convene the Senate? ‘Put it to the test,’ he cried, ‘any time you please, and you will soon see that the self–seeking and cupidity of tyrants is no match for honest indignation fighting to throw off its chains. You talk of the Sabine invasion – that paltry affair. The real war which the people of Rome must fight is of a very different kind, if only you knew it: it is a war against those who, appointed to office in order to give us laws, have left our country at the mercy of their own caprice; it is against those who have abolished free elections, annual magistracies, which, by ensuring the regular transference of power, are the sole guarantee of liberty for all, and, without any mandate from the people, flaunt the insignia, and exercise the power, of kings. When Tarquin was expelled, patrician magistrates were appointed; later, after the secession of the commons, plebeian magistrates were added: on which side are you? Which party do you support – the popular? Not one thing have you done through the agency of the people! The aristocratic? For nearly a year you never once convened the Senate, and today, when we are met, we are forbidden to debate the political situation! Do not, I warn you, trust too much to men’s fear of consequences if they rebel: what we are suffering now is worse than anything we fear may come.’
During this impassioned harangue the decemvirs were far from comfortable. Ignorant of what it might lead to, they could not be sure how far they could afford to express resentment or how far it would be safe to let it pass. But when Horatius had stopped speaking, Gaius Claudius, the uncle of Appius the decemvir, rose to his feet and made a speech in a very different tone, pleading rather than abusive. As his father’s brother, he begged Appius, in the name of that father’s departed spirit, to think of the civil society in which he had been born and forget the abominable compact he had made with his colleagues. ‘I make this appeal,’ he went on, ‘more for your own sake than the country’s; for Rome will seek her rights whether you and your colleagues are willing to grant them or not. Be warned: the struggle will be bitter, and bitter the passions it will arouse. I shudder to think what the outcome may be.’
Though the decemvirs had forbidden discussion of anything but the proposal they had themselves brought forward, they were nevertheless unwilling to interrupt Claudius, who ended his speech by moving that no action should be taken. All members took this to imply that, in Claudius’s view, the decemvirs held no official position, and many of consular rank signified their assent. Another motion, apparently harsher, directed the patricians to proclaim an interrex; actually, however, this second motion was less uncompromising than the first, as the mere fact of taking a decision was equivalent to admitting that the men who presided at the session held official rank, whereas Claudius, by proposing that no action should be taken, had thereby assumed the opposite.
The decemvirs’ position had already been considerably shaken by these moves, when Lucius Cornelius Maluginensis, the brother of the decemvir Cornelius, rose to speak. He had been purposely kept as the last speaker amongst the ex–consuls, and he now proceeded to feign anxiety about the military situation in order to protect his brother and the other decemvirs. ‘I cannot but wonder,’ he said, ‘what strange conjunction of circumstances has brought it about that the decemvirs are being attacked solely – or almost solely – by the men who themselves hoped to be appointed to that office. Why, when during months of continuous peace nobody ever bothered to question the legality of their power, do they stir up trouble now – when the enemy is almost at our gates? I can but suppose they are trusting to the fact that what goes on in a muddy stream is less easily detected. Be that as it may; at the moment we can hardly prejudge the matter, important though it is, as we are occupied with something more important still, so I propose that we postpone discussion of the charge, brought by Horatius and Valerius, that the decemvirs concluded their official term of office on 14 May to a more suitable occasion: let us wait till the coming campaign is over and peace is restored, and then refer it to the Senate for settlement. Meanwhile Appius Claudius must prepare himself to clear up all doubts about the decemviral elections – which he presided over despite the fact that he was himself one of the Board: he must tell us whether, in fact, the decemvirs were appointed for one year, or were intended to remain in office until the two supplementary Tables of Law had been adopted. For the moment all our attention should be directed to the defence of our country; if you think that the reports of enemy activity are mere rumour or that the men who brought them – not to mention the envoys from Tusculum – are liars, I suggest that you send a reconnoitring party to investigate: they, at least, will return with the facts. If, on the contrary, you believe the reports to be true, let us raise troops at the first possible moment, so that the decemvirs may proceed at once to such strategic points as they think fit. Nothing else should take precedence of this.’
The younger members of the Senate were trying to force a division upon this motion, when Valerius and Horatius sprang to their feet again and addressed the House in an even more combative tone than before, demanding a debate on the state of the nation, and declaring their intention of addressing the people if illegal repression prevented them from speaking their minds in the Senate. Never, they asserted, would a handful of private persons, with no legal authority to back them, stop them from saying what they pleased either at a mass meeting of the people or in the House, nor would they ever yield to rods and axes which were a mere mockery of power. Appius saw that he must act quickly, for it was evident that the decemvirate was done for unless he met the attack with equal boldness. ‘It will be wiser,’ he said, ‘to restrict your remarks to the subject of our motion.’ Undismayed, Valerius refused to be silenced by a person without authority, whereupon Appius ordered a lictor to arrest him. Valerius moved to the steps of the House and was already appealing to the men in the street for protection, when Lucius Cornelius flung his arms round Appius, in pretended concern for Valerius, and stopped what looked like becoming an ugly scene. By his intervention Valerius was then permitted to say what he wished to say, but as words were not followed by deeds, the decemvirs’ position remained unshaken. Moreover, there was a further reason why no immediate action was taken: the ex–consuls and older members of the Senate still thought with abhorrence of the tribunate; they were convinced that the commons desired its restoration much more than that of the consulate, and were therefore more willing to see the decemvirs retire voluntarily from office at a later date than to face another popular rising such as the hatred of their tyrannical conduct might cause. If, they thought, a moderate and cautious policy brought the consuls back into power without a popular upheaval, then, perhaps after a period of war, perhaps by means of a milder and more beneficent exercise of consular authority, the commons might be brought to forget the tribunes altogether.
The order for raising troops was then given. No objection was raised. The younger men answered to their names, as the decemvirs’ authority was not subject to appeal. In consultation with each other the decemvirs arranged their duties and divided the army commands, assigning the most important tasks to their two most influential members, Appius Claudius and Quintus Fabius. On the assumption that the real struggle was at home rather than in the battlefield, they decided that Appius, with his ruthless and uncompromising methods, was the better man of the two for crushing civil disturbances. Fabius was given command of the operations against the Sabines, with Manlius Rabuleius and Quintus Poetilius to assist him. Fabius was a lesser character than Appius – not actively vicious, but unreliable; in former days he had distinguished himself both as statesman and soldier, but the influence of his colleagues in the decemvirate had so changed him that he forgot his honourable record and took the violent Appius as his model. Marcus Cornelius was sent to Algidus with Lucius Minucius, Titus Antonius, Caeso Duellius, and Marcus Sergius; Spurius Oppidus was appointed as adjutant to Appius in Rome, each to have full decemviral powers.
Military operations under the decemvirs were no less disastrous than their peace–time record had been. The commanders in the field were not incompetent, but they had made themselves universally hated: that was their only fault; for the rest, the whole responsibility for failure rested upon the men, who, rather than succeed under the command of officers they so detested, preferred to disgrace them – and themselves – by deliberately courting defeat. They were beaten by the Sabines at Eretum and by the Aequians on Algidus. In the silent hours of darkness they fled from Eretum and entrenched themselves on high ground not far from Rome between Fidenae and Crustumeria; the enemy followed up their retreat, but they refused to engage; trusting for their lives not to their soldierly virtues but to the ditch and rampart which protected them. On Algidus the conduct of the troops was more disgraceful still: the camp was lost, and the whole force, stripped of all its gear, fled to Tusculum in the hope that the compassionate loyalty of that friendly town would feed and support it – as indeed it did. So alarming were the reports which reached Rome that the Senate forgot their hatred of the decemvirs and set about taking active measures for defence. Watch posts were established; all men of military age were ordered to guard the walls and man pickets outside the gates; arms and reinforcements were sent to Tusculum; the decemvirs were advised to move their men from Tusculum and hold them ready in camp outside the town; instructions were issued for the other force to leave Fidenae and proceed to Sabine territory, so that by assuming the offensive it might be possible to check the enemy’s plans to attack Rome.
Military defeat was not the only thing the decemvirs had to answer for: there were also two revolting crimes, one committed on the battlefield, the other in Rome. During the operations in Sabine territory a certain Lucius Siccius took advantage of the feeling against the decemvirs to spread talk amongst the soldiers about the possibility of electing tribunes and refusing service. Getting wind of this, the commanders of the army sent him out to reconnoitre a site for a camp, with a party of men whom they instructed to take the first opportunity of killing him. The instructions were obeyed, but he did not die unavenged; for he was a powerful man, as brave as he was strong, and when his assailants closed in on him in a ring, he fought back with great vigour and some of them fell. The rest returned to camp with the story that they had fallen into a trap set by the enemy and that Siccius, fighting bravely, had been killed together with some of his men. At first the story was believed; but later a party went out, with the commanders’ permission, to bury the bodies, and finding none of them stripped and Siccius, with his equipment intact, lying surrounded by the other bodies, all of which were turned towards him – and not a single enemy corpse or any trace of their withdrawal – they returned with Siccius’s body to camp and unequivocally asserted that he had been murdered by his own men. Amongst the troops there was fierce indignation and it was determined that Siccius should at once be taken to Rome; this, however, was forestalled by the decemvirs, who hastened to give him a military funeral at the public cost. The troops grieved profoundly for the loss of their comrade, and current talk about the decemvirs was about as bad as could be.
Hard upon this followed the second crime, in Rome. Its origin was lust, and in its consequences it was no less dreadful than the rape and suicide of Lucretia which led to the expulsion of the Tarquins. The decemvirs, in fact, met the same end as the kings and lost their power for the same reason. What happened was as follows: there was a girl of humble birth whom Appius wished to debauch; her father, Lucius Verginius, who was serving with distinction on Algidus as a centurion, was a man with an excellent record in both military and civilian life, and his wife and children had been trained in the same high principles as himself. He had betrothed his daughter to an ex–tribune named Lucius Icilius, a keen and proven champion of the popular cause. This, then, was the girl – at that time a beautiful young woman – who was the object of Appius’s passion. His attempts to seduce her with money and promises failed, so when he found her modesty proof against every kind of assault, he had recourse to a method of compulsion such as only a heartless tyrant could devise. Taking advantage of her father’s absence on service, he instructed a dependant of his own, named Marcus Claudius, to claim the girl as his slave and to maintain the claim against any demands which might be made for her liberty. One morning, therefore, when she was entering the Forum to attend the school, Claudius – the decemvir’s pimp – laid hands on her, and, asserting that she, like her mother before her, was his slave, told her to follow him, and threatened to take her by force if she refused. The poor girl was dumb with fright, but her nurse shouted for help and a crowd quickly gathered; for as both Verginius and Icilius were well known and well liked, there were plenty of people to support her, either out of personal regard or simply because the whole proceeding was so disgraceful. There was now no likelihood of her being carried off by force, as there were plenty of people to protect her; Claudius, however, called out that there was no need for the crowd to get excited, as what he was doing was perfectly legal. He then asked Verginia to come before the court. The bystanders advised her to comply with the request, and the two of them presented themselves at Appius’s tribunal. The farce which Claudius then acted was of course familiar to the judge, who was, indeed, the author of it – the girl, he said, had been stolen from his house, where she was born, and palmed off on Verginius as his daughter. He had this on excellent evidence, and was prepared to prove it before any judge in the land – even before Verginius, who had been worse used in the matter than himself. Meanwhile Verginia – the slave–girl – was surely bound to go with her master. Verginia’s advocates urged that her father was absent on national service; he could be home in two days if he were sent for, and it was unfair to involve a father in a law–suit about his children when he was not present to conduct his case; accordingly they asked that the hearing should be postponed till Verginius could return to Rome, and that meanwhile Appius, in accordance with the law he had himself sponsored, should grant the defendants custody and not permit a young woman to risk her reputation before her status in society was legally decided. Appius prefaced his judgement by remarking that his championship of liberty was made plain enough by that very law which Verginius’s friends cited in support of their demand and added that it would prove a sure defence of liberty only if its application were fixed and invariable. Anyone was entitled to bring an action, and in other cases in which people were claimed as free, the demand was legal; but in the present case, where the girl was subject to her father, there was nobody else to whom the master could surrender custody, and for that reason he gave judgement that the father should be sent for and that meanwhile the claimant – Claudius – should not relinquish his right but should take charge of the girl and promise to produce her in court when the person said to be her father arrived in Rome. The judgement was patently unjust, but though there was plenty of muttering and indignation nobody ventured to speak openly against it.
At this juncture Verginia’s uncle, Numitorius, and her betrothed lover, Icilius, arrived on the scene. The crowd made way for them, and most people were beginning to hope that Icilius’s intervention might be more effective than anything else in thwarting Appius’s design, when a lictor called out that, judgement having been given, the case was over, and tried to shove Icilius, despite his loud protests, out of the way. Even the mildest of men would have been enraged at such an insult. Icilius turned on Appius. ‘Get rid of me?’ he cried; ‘only naked steel will do it – if you are to get away with your loathsome secret, and no one be the wiser. I am to marry this girl, and I mean to have a virgin for my bride. Call every lictor in the city – let them get out their rods and axes – I refuse to let my promised wife pass the night away from her father’s house. You have made slaves of us all – you have robbed the people of their right to appeal and of the protection of their tribunes; but that does not mean you have the lordship of your lusts over our wives and children. Fulfil your savage pleasure on our backs and necks; at least our chastity shall be safe from you: assault that, and I will call upon every man in Rome to defend my bride – Verginius will raise the army on behalf of his only daughter – all of us will move heaven and earth to help us, and never shall you get away with the infamous judgement you have given unless you kill us. I conjure you, Appius, to think seriously where you are going. Verginius can decide what to do about his daughter when he comes; but I wish him to know that, if he yields to this fellow’s claim, he will have to look for another son–in–law. For my part, in defence of my bride’s freedom, I will die sooner than betray her.’
There was intense excitement, not without a threat of violence. The lictors had surrounded Icilius, but they took, as yet, no definite action. It was not, Appius declared, a question of Icilius’s defence of Verginia; it was a question of a disorderly demagogue, looking in the true spirit of the tribunate for a chance to stir up trouble – which chance he would certainly not get that day. He had better realize, however, that his reckless behaviour was by no means being overlooked – on the contrary, his freedom from immediate arrest was a concession to a father’s rights – Verginius being absent – and to the liberty of the subject; and, to prove it, judgement in the case would be postponed. Appius went on to say that he would ask Claudius to waive his rights and allow Verginia to go free till the following day, adding at the same time a warning, for the benefit of Icilius and his like, that, if the girl’s father failed to appear, the decemvir would certainly not lack firmness in administering the law which he had himself proposed. He concluded by remarking that his own lictors were quite adequate to the task of dealing with disturbances of the peace – so there was no need to send for those of his colleagues.
A little time had now been gained, and Verginia’s friends decided that the first thing to be done was to get a message through to her father. Icilius’s brother and a son of Numitorius were accordingly commissioned to go straight to the city gate and ride with all possible speed to the camp where Verginius was serving, as the girl’s safety depended upon her father’s punctual arrival in Rome. They were both active young men, and having covered the distance at a gallop, they delivered their message.
Claudius, meanwhile, was pressing Icilius to provide sureties for the surrender of Verginia, and Icilius was doing his utmost to delay matters in order to allow the messengers to get well on their way to the camp; nevertheless, he replied to Claudius that it was precisely the question of sureties that he was considering, whereupon people on every side began to raise their hands to signify their readiness to go bail for him. Icilius was touched. ‘I thank you,’ he said with tears in his eyes. ‘I will need your services tomorrow. I have sureties now in plenty.’ This being settled Verginia was surrendered on the security of her kinsmen.
Appius did not wish to give the impression that he had sat for the sole purpose of this case, so he waited a little while to see if there were any other business. There was none, everybody’s attention and interest having been totally absorbed in Verginia. Accordingly Appius went home and wrote to his colleagues in command of the army telling them to refuse Verginius leave, or – better – to put him under arrest. Happily, the letter containing these vile instructions arrived too late: Verginius had already got his leave and had started for Rome soon after dark. The letter with its now useless orders to stop him was delivered early on the following morning.
At dawn next day the excitement in the city reached a new height. Verginius entered the Forum leading his daughter by the hand – he in mourning, she in rags. With them were a number of women, and well–wishers in plenty. Moving about amongst the crowd, Verginius accosted one man after another and begged for their support – or, rather, demanded it as his due; for, as he did not fail to tell them, it was for their wives and children that he stood every day in the battle–line, and no soldier had to his credit a better war record than he. But what price patriotism, if his children were doomed to suffer within the safe walls of Rome the worst horrors of a captured town? Icilius made similar appeals for public sympathy; but the women’s silent weeping was more moving than any words. On Appius alone – who was, indeed, more like a man demented than a lover – this touching scene had no effect whatever. He mounted the tribunal. Claudius, the plaintiff, started to complain of unfair treatment at the previous day’s session, but before he could finish what he had to say or Verginius be given a chance to reply, Appius interrupted him. What he said by way of justification of his decision our ancient writers have recorded, some of them – maybe – truly; personally, in view of the enormity of the decision itself, I find all the accounts implausible. I can but state, therefore, the bare and indisputable fact, that Appius gave judgement for the plaintiff and declared Verginia to be his slave.
This monstrous decision was received with stupefaction, and for several minutes nobody uttered a word. Presently Claudius began to push his way through the group of women to where Verginia was standing – to claim his property. The women burst into tears, and suddenly Verginius shook his fist at Appius and called out: ‘I betrothed my daughter to Icilius, not to you – I meant her for a marriage–bed, not for a brothel. Are men and women to copulate like goats and rabbits? Whether these people will endure it, I do not know; but I know very well that no man will who has a sword!’ Claudius was being jostled away by the women and Verginia’s other friends who were crowding round her, when an officer of the decemvirs blew his trumpet for silence. Appius then spoke, and his words were those of a man whose passions had turned his wits. ‘I have incontrovertible evidence,’ he said, ‘quite apart from Verginius’s violent behaviour yesterday and the abusive words uttered by Icilius – to which everyone here could bear witness – that throughout last night meetings were being held in the City for seditious purposes. Forewarned of the coming struggle I have therefore brought an armed escort with me – not that I would interfere with any law–abiding citizen, but simply to check disturbers of the peace, as the majesty of my office demands. It will be wiser to keep quiet. Lictor, clear the crowd. Let the master through, to take possession of his slave.’ The loud and angry tones in which these words were uttered had their effect: the crowd instinctively shrank back, and the poor girl was left standing alone, a helpless victim. Verginius looked round for help, but there was none. In a moment his mind was made up: ‘Appius,’ he cried, ‘if I spoke too harshly, a father’s heart was to blame, and I ask your pardon. This whole business bewilders me – let me question the nurse here, in my child’s presence; then, if I find I am not her father, I shall understand and be able to go more calmly.’ Permission was granted, and he took Verginia and her nurse over to the shops by the shrine of Cloacina – the New Shops, as they are called today. Then he snatched a knife from a butcher, and crying: ‘There is only one way, my child, to make you free,’ he stabbed her to the heart. Then, looking behind him at the tribunal, ‘Appius,’ he said, ‘may the curse of this blood rest upon your head forever!’
The uproar which followed the dreadful deed shook Appius profoundly. Instantly he ordered Verginius’s arrest, but the knife was still in his hand and cutting his way through the crowd he succeeded, with the help of friends, in reaching the city gate. Icilius and Numitorius lifted the lifeless body for the crowd to see, with imprecations upon Appius’s guilt and tears for the girl’s ill–starred beauty and the awful necessity which drove her father to his crime. Women pressed round – were children, they cried, begotten and born only for this? Was this the reward of chastity? – and much more that grief, at such a time, will wring from women’s hearts, the more pitiful to hear from their very weakness. As for the men – Icilius especially – one thought was uppermost in their minds, one theme, above all, on their lips: the loss of the tribunate and the right of appeal, and the tyrannous oppression of the people.
The atrocious conduct of Appius, combined with the hope that some chance was offered of regaining their liberty, kept the mob at fever pitch. Appius ordered that Icilius should be called to the court, then, when he resisted the summons, ordered his arrest; the attendants, however, could not get anywhere near him, whereupon Appius himself with a number of young patricians thrust his way through the crowd and told them to drag him off to prison. But Appius was too late; for already the press around Icilius had been joined by the popular leaders Valerius and Horatius; they stopped the lictor and said they would not allow the arrest of Icilius on the order of a man without any official standing, even if the form of the arrest were in accordance with law; if, on the other hand, force were attempted, they would be quite equal to the occasion. A riot at once broke out. The lictor made a dash at Valerius and Horatius, but the mob seized his rods and smashed them. Appius mounted the platform to speak, but was shouted down; Horatius and Valerius followed, and got a hearing. Valerius took advantage of the momentary authority he had gained to order the lictors to refuse service to Appius who had no official rank – and at that moment Appius’s resistance collapsed and, in fear for his life, he gave his enemies the slip by wrapping his head in his cloak and disappearing into a nearby house.
Spurius Oppius hurried into the Forum by a street on the opposite side to help his colleague, and saw that vigorous action had won the day. The next step, however, was far from clear: everyone suggested something different; undecided and on edge, he agreed to each proposal as it came, but finally made up his mind to call a meeting of the Senate. This was oil on the troubled waters, for as nearly all the nobility were believed to be hostile to the decemvirs, the populace hoped that the Senate would bring their power to an end.
The Senate passed a resolution that the people must be carefully handled, adding that it was even more vital to prevent Verginius’s return to the army from causing disaffection amongst the troops. For this purpose some of the younger senators were sent to the camp on Mount Vecilius to urge the decemvirs to do all they could to keep their men under control. As it was, however, Verginius caused a greater upheaval in the army even than he had done in Rome. His arrival was immensely impressive: long before he reached the camp he could be seen because of the crowd of some four hundred citizens who accompanied him out of sympathy for his lacerated feelings; his naked weapon was still in his hand, and his clothes were covered with blood. There was not a man but had his eyes riveted upon him. Moreover the presence in camp of so many men not in uniform made the number of civilians seem greater than it actually was. When the soldiers asked him to explain his strange appearance, for a while he was unable to answer, and stood weeping silently, while more and more men came hurrying and jostling to the scene. At last the excitement calmed down, and as soon as there was silence he told his whole story. Then, the story ended, he raised his hands as if in prayer, and made a moving appeal to his comrades. ‘Fellow–soldiers,’ he said, ‘I beg you not to hold me guilty of a crime for which Appius is to blame. Do not turn from me as if I were the murderer of my child. Had my daughter been allowed to live in freedom, and like an honest woman, her life would have been dearer to me than my own; but when I saw her being dragged like a slave–girl to a brothel, she was already lost to me – and better, I thought, by death than by dishonour. It was pity that drove me to what looked like cruelty, nor should I ever have survived her death, but for the hope of avenging it by your help. You too, my friends, have daughters, sisters, wives; though my Verginia is dead, the lust of Appius still lives, and will grow the hungrier if it goes unpunished. Learn by another’s sorrow to avoid it for yourselves. As for me, I have no wife – she died a natural death; I have no daughter – for, unable to live chaste, she met a piteous yet honourable end. In my house, therefore, there is nothing now for Appius’s lust, and should he threaten me in any other way, I will defend myself as unshrinkingly as I defended my daughter’s chastity. Do the same, fellow–soldiers, for your own selves and for your children.’
Verginius spoke with passion and he was answered by cries of sympathy from his hearers, and assurances that they would fail neither to support him in his distress nor to vindicate their own liberty. The civilians who were present echoed his complaints; they told the soldiers that merely to hear of these dreadful events was bad enough, but had they actually seen them, they would have felt them more deeply still; finally by reporting that in Rome the decemvirs had been overthrown – together with news which came soon afterwards that Appius had narrowly escaped with his life and had gone into exile – they prevailed on the troops to muster on parade and to march forthwith for Rome. The decemvirs in command, greatly alarmed by this turn of events and by the reports from the city, made hurried and anxious efforts to restore discipline. Mild methods proved useless, and were met with stubborn silence; attempts to exercise authority were greeted with the reply that they were dealing with men – and armed men at that. The whole force then marched in column to Rome and occupied the Aventine, where they urged every man of the common people they met to recover their liberties and restore the tribunate. Beyond this, no proposals were made for violent measures.
Oppius convened the Senate. A resolution was passed in favour of conciliatory action, as the occasion of the mutiny came from their own – the aristocratic – party. Three representatives of consular rank, Spurius Tarpeius, Gaius Julius, and Publius Sulpicius, were commissioned to inquire, in the name of the Senate, by whose orders the troops had deserted and what they intended by their armed occupation of the Aventine, the abandonment of their military duties, and the capture, so to speak, of their own country. The troops, though they had their answer ready, had nobody who was qualified to give it, for as yet they had no recognized leader and each man individually shrank from taking on what would certainly prove a dangerous and invidious task; with one voice, therefore, they demanded Valerius and Horatius – let them be sent, and to them they would give their answer. Verginius, when the Senate’s representatives had gone, pointed out to the troops that lack of recognized leadership had, only a moment ago, involved them in confusion over a comparatively trivial matter; an answer had been given, nor was it a bad one, but it was the result, none the less, not of concerted policy but merely of a lucky consensus of opinion. He proposed, therefore, that ten men should be invested with supreme authority, with the title of Military Tribunes. The proposal was accepted, and Verginius himself was the first man to whom the new office was offered. In the present circumstances, however, he was unwilling to accept it: ‘Reserve your good opinion of me,’ he said, ‘until matters improve, both for me and yourselves. While my daughter’s death is still unavenged, no position of responsibility can give me pleasure, and it would not be wise during the present political crisis to have the men most likely to get into trouble as your leaders. If I can be of service to you at all, the fact of my not holding official rank will make no difference.’ Ten military tribunes were then appointed.
Meanwhile things had been moving in the other army, in Sabine territory. Icilius and Numitorius had not been idle; by reminding the men of the murder of Siccius, which roused them to hardly less fury than the subsequent story of the brutal attempt to rape Verginia, they got them to mutiny. Icilius, who had a good working knowledge of mob psychology, hearing that the army on the Aventine had created military tribunes, was afraid that their lead would be followed in the city elections and the same men be elected tribunes of the people. Now he had designs on the tribunate himself, so to prevent his fears being realized he had another ten military tribunes, with similar powers, appointed by his own troops as well, before they started for Rome.
They entered the city in marching order by the Colline Gate and proceeded straight through to the Aventine, where they joined the other army and directed the twenty military tribunes to elect two of their number for the supreme command. The two elected were Manlius Oppius and Sextus Manilius.
For the Senate the situation was an anxious one: they were in session daily, but spent more time in quarrelling than in fruitful deliberation. They bitterly blamed the decemvirs for the murder of Siccius, the monstrous conduct of Appius, and the disgrace of the armies in the field; finally they decided to send Valerius and Horatius to the Aventine, but both men refused to go unless the decemvirs abandoned the insignia of an office which had in fact terminated the previous year. The decemvirs objected to what they called a summary dismissal and refused to resign until the laws, the codifying of which had been the purpose of their appointment, had been formally enacted.
When the common soldiers were told by an ex–tribune named Marcus Duellius that the endless quarrels in the Senate were leading nowhere, they left the Aventine and moved to the Sacred Mount, as Duellius assured them that the senatorial party would never take the situation seriously until they saw the city empty; moreover the associations of the Sacred Mount would remind the patricians that the people were capable of firmness, and they would be made to realize that without the restoration of the tribunate national unity was impossible. The men left by the Via Nomentana – then known as the street of Fig Trees – and on the way to the Sacred Mount observed the same decency and restraint as their fathers had done some fifty years before. The army was followed by the whole civilian population – all but the too young or too old – and they were seen on their way by their women and children asking in piteous tones who they supposed would protect them now, in a city where there was no respect for chastity or freedom.
Rome was empty. The city, a moment before so full of life, had suddenly become a desert. In the Forum no one was to be seen but a few old men – when the Senate was sitting it was indeed a solitude. It was no longer only Horatius and Valerius who protested, or gloomily asked the senators what they imagined was to happen next. ‘If,’ was the cry, ‘the decemvirs still refuse to yield an inch, will you let everything fall to ruin or go up in smoke? We would ask the decemvirs themselves what they suppose is the office to which they cling so desperately. Come now, gentlemen – do you fancy laying down the law to a blank wall in an empty house? Are you not ashamed to see your lictors outnumber the rest of us in the Forum? What do you mean to do if the city is attacked? Or if the populace, finding, as soon they may, that secession is inadequate to move us, rises in armed rebellion? Do you want your power to end with the collapse of Rome? The plain truth is that either we must have the tribunate, or do without the commons – for we ourselves are more likely to dispense with our patrician magistrates than ever they are with theirs. When they forced us originally to grant them the tribunate, it was an untried experiment; but now that they have tasted the sweetness of the power it confers, they will never willingly give it up, especially when we make no attempt whatever in the exercise of our own powers to lessen their need of protection.’ Bitter attacks of this sort were so general that the decemvirs could not but bow to a weight of hostile opinion now almost universal; accordingly, they gave assurances that they would accept the ruling of the House and submit themselves to the Senate’s authority. One request – or one warning – they added: namely, that their persons should be protected from the popular fury, lest their blood should set an evil precedent for the murder, on future occasions, of senators by the people.
Valerius and Horatius were entrusted by the Senate with the task of settling with the commons upon what terms they would consent to return to Rome, and they were urged at the same time to see that the decemvirs were protected from the violence of the mob. They left the city forthwith and on reaching the Sacred Mount received a tremendous welcome as the champions of popular liberty, both at the outset of the recent troubles and in the sequel. They were formally thanked in a speech which was delivered by Icilius on behalf of the commons as a whole. They then proceeded to the discussion of terms, and asked what demands the commons proposed to make. Again it was Icilius who spoke, and his answer, in accordance with an understanding reached before Valerius and Horatius arrived, made it clear that the people based their hopes for the future upon equity rather than force. What they required was, first, the restoration of the tribunate and the right of appeal, to which they had trusted for protection before the decemvirs came to power, and, secondly, that no one should be liable to prosecution for having incited the army or the populace to recover their liberties by secession. Their only harsh demand concerned the punishment of the decemvirs; justice, they declared, required their surrender, and they threatened to burn them alive.
The commissioners from Rome replied to the following effect: ‘Your demands have been dictated partly by judgement, partly by passion; as to the former, they are so equitable that they deserve to have been granted on our own initiative, for by them you seek only to safeguard your liberty, and not at all to put yourselves into a position to make irresponsible attacks upon other people. As to the latter, we can, indeed, understand your anger, but we must not therefore indulge it. Because of it you are tumbling headlong into that very vice you profess so bitterly to hate, and almost before you yourselves are free you are showing your desire to play the tyrant against your enemies. Will our country never have done with these everlasting bloody reprisals? A shield is what you need, not a sword. Surely it is enough for any ordinary man to enjoy his rights in a free country, hurt by none and hurting no one. Moreover, if the time should come when you can make yourselves feared – when by the recovery of your own magistrates and the laws they may pass you have power in your hands to fine us or exile us – then you will be in a position to judge every case on its merits. For the time being it is enough to seek the recovery of your liberty.’
The people were willing that the Senate’s representatives should do as they wished, so they gave the assurance that they would settle matters in Rome and return without delay. All the decemvirs except Appius, when the demands of the commons were presented to them, were so much relieved to find no mention made of their own punishment that they agreed unconditionally. Appius, on the contrary, the most savage and the worst hated of them all, measured the revengefulness and brutality of others by what he found in his own breast. ‘I know well enough,’ he said, ‘what is coming to us. It is obvious that the fight against us is postponed only till our enemies have arms. Hatred must have its offering of blood. Not even I hesitate any longer to resign my powers.’ Decrees were then passed by the Senate ordering, first, the resignation of all the decemvirs at the earliest possible moment; secondly, that tribunes should be elected under the presidency of the Pontifex Maximus, Quintus Fabius; thirdly, that no one should be liable to prosecution either for the mutiny in the army or for the departure of the commons to the Sacred Mount. The Senate then adjourned and the decemvirs publicly handed in their resignations amidst general rejoicing. A report of all these proceedings was sent to the Sacred Mount, and the men who carried it were escorted on their way by every man left in Rome; they were met by a similar happy crowd from the camp and mutual congratulations ensued upon the restoration of liberty and domestic peace. The official representatives who had brought the news addressed the people: ‘In the name of our country – and may she, and you, for ever prosper,’ they said, ‘we invite you to return to your homes, your wives, and your children. One thing we beg: here, though much has been needed to support so many of you, you have exercised exemplary self–control and nobody’s land is any the worse for your presence; observe, then, the same discipline when you enter the city. Go back now to the Aventine. It has happy associations for you, as it was the place where you took the first step on your road to political liberty. There, once more, you will elect your tribunes, and the Pontifex Maximus will be present to preside at the election.’ All this was joyfully and unanimously approved. Without delay the march to Rome began, soldiers and civilians alike exchanging with all whom they met expressions of triumph and delight. Once in the city, the troops proceeded to the Aventine in silence, and there, under the presidency of Quintus Fabius, the election was held.
First on the list of new tribunes was Lucius Verginius; then came Icilius and Publius Numitorius, the great–uncle of Verginia, the two men responsible for the secession; then Gaius Sicinius, son of the Sicinius who is said to have been the first tribune elected on the Sacred Mount; then Marcus Duellius, who had served with distinction in the same capacity before the period of the decemvirs and in the subsequent conflict with them had remained a staunch friend of the people. The other five – Marcus Titinius, Marcus Pomponius, Gaius Apronius, Publius Villius, and Gaius Oppius – were elected on promise rather than on past performance.
As soon as he entered upon office Icilius laid a motion before the commons that no man should be held guilty at law for defying the authority of the decemvirs. The motion was carried, and immediately afterwards Duellius got another motion through for the election of consuls, with the right of appeal. All these transactions took place in the Circus Flaminius – then known as the Flaminian Meadows.
Valerius and Horatius were elected to the consulship through an interrex, and began their official duties forthwith. Their policy had a popular bias without being anti–aristocratic; it did not, however, avoid giving offence to the aristocratic party, who felt every measure intended to safeguard popular liberty to be a diminution of their own power. Their first measure concerned the disputed legal question as to whether or not the Senate was bound by resolutions passed by the commons: with a view to this, they put through a bill, at the Centuri–ate Assembly, to the effect that any resolution passed by the commons at their Tribal Assembly should be binding upon the whole people, thereby giving a cutting edge to all measures brought forward by the tribunes. As to the right of appeal – the one real safeguard of liberty – they went further than the mere restoration of what it had been before its abolition by the decemvirs, and strengthened the whole basis on which it stood by the solemn enactment of a new measure, which provided that no one should declare the election of any magistrate without the right of appeal, and that anyone who did so could be killed without offence to law or religion. Then, having adequately strengthened the position of the commons by the two safeguards of the tribunate and the appeal, they revived, in the interest of the tribunes themselves, the almost forgotten principle of their ‘sacrosanctity’; this they did by reintroducing certain religious sanctions long fallen into disuse, and then proceeded to make the principle of inviolability legal as well as religious by a further enactment that an assault upon a tribune, an aedile, or a member of the board of Ten Judges should carry a penalty of death or exile, the property of the offender to be sold by public auction. Jurists deny that by this law anyone is sacrosanct; it means, they maintain, that an assault upon any of these officials carries a penalty of outlawry – the guilty person being, in the legal phrase, ‘forfeit to Jupiter’. Thus an aedile may be arrested and imprisoned by a superior magistrate, an act which, though illegal according to the law in question, is none the less a proof that aediles are not considered as sacrosanct. The tribunes, on the other hand, are – according to this school of thought – sacrosanct by virtue of an ancient oath sworn by the people at the time of the original creation of this magistracy. There were other jurists who offered a different interpretation: according to these, the consuls and praetors (as being created under the same auspices as the consuls) were also protected by this law, the consuls being known as ‘judges’. But the fallacy here lies in the fact that a consul was not called a ‘judge’ at that period, but a ‘praetor’. It was Horatius and Valerius, too, who started the practice of having the decrees of the Senate delivered to the plebeian aediles in the temple of Ceres, whereas previously they had been suppressed or falsified by the consuls to suit their own convenience.
The tribune Duellius then brought forward a motion that anyone who left the people without tribunes or declared the election of magistrates without the right of appeal should be first scourged and then beheaded. The motion was passed. All these measures were disliked by the aristocratic party, but they offered no definite opposition as, up to the present, no attacks had yet been made against individuals.
Political liberty was now firmly established on the basis of the restored tribunate, and the tribunes felt themselves strong enough to proceed against individuals. Their first victim was, of course, Appius, and Verginius was put up to conduct the case against him. The summons was issued. Appius entered the Forum with a strong escort of young patricians, and the sight of him there with his satellites was a bitter reminder of the frightful tyranny which had so recently been suppressed. Verginius spoke. ‘Oratory,’ he said, ‘is all very well when there are no facts to go on: it was invented to conceal our doubts. I will not waste your time in presenting a case against a man from whose bestial conduct you found freedom by force of arms, nor will I let him at this juncture add to his other crimes the impudent hypocrisy of defending himself. Very well then: I have nothing to say at the moment, Appius, of all the countless vile offences which during the past two years you have committed against the dictates of decency and law; one charge only I bring against you: unless you can produce a referee to establish your innocence of having illegally given custody of a free person to one who claimed her as his slave, I shall order you to prison.’ What the people’s verdict would be was all too obvious, and in the protection of the tribunes Appius could have no hope whatever; nevertheless he called on the tribunes and, when none of them offered to stay the proceedings and he was arrested by an officer of the law, he cried out: ‘I appeal.’ The sound of the word, so intimately associated with popular liberty, on the lips of the man who so short a time before had pronounced that monstrous judgement which no one could forget, struck everybody dumb. Soon every man present was muttering to himself indignant comments – there were gods in heaven, who did not neglect the doings of this world – punishment, though late not light, found out at last the proud and remorseless amongst men. Here, they murmured, was the very man appealing who had robbed the nation of the right to do so – begging for the people’s aid, when he himself had trampled under foot every privilege they possessed – being hauled to prison without the protection which every man in a free society should enjoy, in just retribution for his own foul deed.
Suddenly above the murmurings of the crowd Appius’s own voice was heard, raised in supplication to the people he had once enslaved. ‘Will you not remember,’ he said, ‘the services my family has rendered our country in politics and war, or my own unhappy involvement in the popular cause? It was for that that I braved the Senate’s displeasure and resigned the consulship, simply to codify the laws in a form that would be just to all. And what of those laws themselves – the Twelve Tables – which will be there for ever to protect your interests, while I, who am responsible for them, am taken to prison? As for my own personal acts – good or bad – I mean to put them to the proof when I am given the chance formally to plead my cause; for the moment I confine myself to demanding the common privilege of a Roman citizen accused of an offence to speak, and to await the judgement of the people. You hate me, but I am not so afraid of your hatred as to have no confidence in the mercy and the sense of justice of my fellow–citizens. I will call a second time upon the tribunes if I am taken to prison unheard, and I warn you not to imitate those whom you hate. Moreover, if the tribunes declare that they are bound not to listen to an appeal – the very crime with which they charge the decemvirs – then I appeal to the people, and invoke the protection of the laws passed this year for the safeguarding of this privilege, on the motion both of consuls and of tribunes. Who – I ask you – do you expect to appeal, if not a man who has been refused the right of pleading his cause and has never been legally found guilty? What humble working man do you suppose will find protection in the laws of our country, if I cannot? Your treatment of me will show clearly enough whether it is liberty or tyranny which has been strengthened by the new legislation, and whether the right of appeal either to the tribunes or to the people against injustice in high places is a reality or a mere parade of empty words.’
Verginius replied: ‘This man – Appius Claudius – is not as other men: he alone can claim no share in the beneficence of law; he alone has no part in the mutual compact of civilized men. Turn your eyes to the tribunal where he sat, like a murderous brigand in his stronghold – remember him there, a self–appointed tyrant in perpetuity, robbing, beating, killing, threatening us all with his bloody rods and axes, attended, in his contempt for God and man, by the twelve executioners he called his lictors, and turning, at last, from rapine and murder to the lust which drove him, before the eyes of the Roman people, to tear a freeborn girl from her father’s arms and give her to his pimp, like a helpless prisoner of war. From that tribunal he pronounced the savage decree – the judgement of unspeakable baseness – which armed a father’s hand against his daughter, and ordered to gaol her lover and her uncle even as they were lifting her body from which life had scarcely flown – and why? in anger for her death? No indeed; but in rage for the loss of his own pleasure. Appius, the prison which you called in savage jest the working man’s home, was built for you as well as for him; appeal as often as you will, and I, as often, challenge you to prove before a referee that you did not give custody of a free citizen to a person who claimed her as his slave. If you refuse to do this, I shall take it as a verdict against you and order you to prison.’
Appius was flung into gaol. No one, indeed, raised a protest, but there was, nevertheless, considerable uneasiness in most people’s minds. Appius was a very distinguished man – and might not this summary treatment of him be a sign that the newly won freedom of the common people had already gone too far? The tribune fixed a date for the formal legal proceedings.
Meanwhile representatives from the Latins and the Hernici arrived in Rome to express the good wishes of their governments on the restoration of political harmony. To mark the occasion they brought with them a gold crown, to be presented to Jupiter, Lord of Heaven and Earth, in his temple on the Capitol. The crown was a small thing in itself, as neither state was wealthy, the offices of religion being observed in each with piety rather than splendour.
The same envoys also brought the news that the Aequians and Volscians were again mobilizing on a large scale, and steps were at once taken to meet the threat: the consuls, on the Senate’s instructions, settled their respective commands, Horatius obtaining control of operations against the Sabines, Valerius against the Aequians and Volscians. Troops had then to be raised, and as soon as the order for enlistment went out, so great was the popular enthusiasm that in addition to the younger men a large number of volunteers who had already served their time presented themselves for further service, so that the resulting force was, by the admixture of veteran troops, not only stronger in numbers than usual but also better in quality. Before it left the city, the consuls had the decemviral laws – the ‘Twelve Tables’ – engraved on bronze and permanently exhibited in a place where all could read them. Some historians declare that this service was performed by the aediles, acting on orders from the tribunes.
Appius’s uncle, Gaius Claudius, had always strongly disapproved of the decemvirs’ crimes, especially of the tyrannical behaviour of his nephew, and to mark his disapproval had retired to his old home at Regillus; but now, in spite of his advanced age, he returned to Rome to plead for the man whose vicious conduct had been the cause of his exile. Dressed as a mourner, he appeared in the Forum with his dependants and various other members of his clan and solicited the support of everyone he chanced to fall in with, begging them not to brand the Claudian family with the ignominy of imprisonment and chains. Appius, he urged, was a man whose bust would be honoured by future generations as that of the great founder of Roman law, and it was intolerable to think that such a man should be languishing in gaol amongst sneak–thieves and cut–throats. ‘Forget your anger,’ he said, ‘for a little while, and try to see things as they really are; it would surely be better to forgive one man at the entreaty of so many members of the Claudian family than to let hatred of one stop your ears to the prayers of all. I am doing this for the sake of my family and my name; Appius was no friend of mine, and I never made up my quarrel with him – but he is in trouble, and I wish to help him. By your own determination you recovered your liberties; aristocracy and people have composed their differences, and harmony between them can be maintained on firm foundations only if you show clemency.’
Some were more affected by the old man’s loyalty to his family than by the actual object of his appeal; Verginius, however, was adamant: he insisted that he and his daughter were the only worthy objects of pity; other men should listen not to the entreaties of those born tyrants the Claudii, but of Verginia’s kinsmen, the three tribunes, who held their position solely in the interest of the common people whose loyal support they now implored. Of the two appeals for pity, that of Verginius was felt to be more just. It was the end of all hope for Appius: he refused to face his trial, and killed himself.
Immediately afterwards a warrant was issued by Numitorius for the arrest of Spurius Oppius, who, after Appius, was the chief object of popular detestation, as he had been in Rome when his colleague gave the infamous judgement in the case of Verginia. Actually, however, the feeling against Oppius was due less to his failure to prevent the miscarriage of justice than to a piece of brutality for which he was himself responsible. A witness was produced to prove the fact: he was an old soldier who had served in twenty–seven campaigns and had been eight times decorated. Wearing his decorations so that everyone present could see them, he tore his tunic open and revealed his back frightfully disfigured by a beating, and declared that if Oppius, the defendant, could mention any misdemeanour of which he had been guilty to deserve such punishment, he would let him repeat the beating, even though he no longer had any official authority to do so. Like his colleague, Oppius was flung into gaol, and put an end to his life before formal judicial proceedings could begin. His property, together with that of Appius, was confiscated by the tribunes. The remaining decemvirs went into exile, with forfeiture of all they possessed. Marcus Claudius, the man who had claimed Verginia, was prosecuted and condemned, but was spared the extreme penalty at the request of Verginius himself and went into exile at Tibur. Thus not a single man who had any share in the guilt of Verginia’s death remained, and her ghost, which so long had wandered from house to house in search of satisfaction, found rest at last.
To the aristocratic party the preceding events had caused something like terror, for the tribunes, like the decemvirs before them, had already a murderous gleam in their eyes. It was a relief, therefore, when the tribune Duellius took steps to place a salutary check upon the excessive powers they had acquired. ‘Our battle for freedom,’ he said, ‘is already won, and we have punished our enemies enough. For the rest of the year I do not propose to allow any man to be prosecuted or imprisoned. Now that the recent offences of our political enemies have been sufficiently atoned for by the punishment of the decemvirs, there is no point in raking up old and forgotten troubles; and, so far as the future is concerned, the unceasing care of both consuls in the safeguarding of your liberties will ensure that no lawless act calling for the intervention of the tribunes will be attempted.’ This move towards a more moderate policy relieved the natural apprehensions of the nobility; at the same time, however, it increased their dislike of the consuls, who, in their view, had shown a disproportionate interest in the popular cause: so much so, in fact, that the safety and dignity of the patrician order had been the concern of the tribunes rather than of their own representative magistrates, and their opponents had wearied of revenge before the consuls had shown spirit enough to attempt any check upon the arbitrary use of their powers. It was commonly said that the Senate had shown weakness in supporting the consuls’ policy – and perhaps truly; for there was no doubt that the political situation, difficult as it was, had compelled them to temporize.
The position of the commons was now defined, and the settlement of domestic affairs enabled the consuls to take up their respective military commands. The Volscians and Aequians had already joined forces on Algidus, and Valerius, with proper caution, did not immediately engage them; had he done so, one can well believe that, in view of the effect of the decemvirs’ disastrous command in the previous campaign upon the morale of the Romans and their enemies, his rashness would have cost him dear. Taking up a position a mile from the enemy, he waited within his defences, and though enemy troops on several occasions advanced into the open ground between their respective positions, the challenge was not accepted. Waiting around for a fight which never came off proving tedious to the Volscian and Aequian forces, they took the Roman reluctance to engage as a confession of defeat and dispersed on plundering raids against the Latins and Hernici, leaving to protect their original position a small garrison quite inadequate for a general engagement. This was Valerius’s opportunity: reversing the previous position of affairs, he marched out from his entrenchments and assumed the offensive, the enemy, for their part, refusing to engage from an uncomfortable sense of their numerical inferiority. This was a great fillip to the morale of the Romans, to whom an enemy too scared to leave the cover of his entrenchments seemed already as good as beaten. They did not withdraw until nightfall, having stood to arms throughout the day. Eating their rations that evening they were full of confidence, in marked contrast to the enemy troops, who in great alarm sent riders all over the countryside to recall their comrades who had gone off on the raids. Some were successful, and the raiders who had not gone far a field returned; no contact was made with the rest.
At dawn next morning the Romans again took the field with the intention of assaulting the enemy’s defences if he still refused to engage in the open, and when the greater part of the day had passed without any move being made, Valerius ordered his men to the attack, and the advance began. Nothing was better calculated to arouse the indignation of the Volscians and Aequians than to find their victorious armies forced to cower behind an earthen rampart in order to save their lives. They too, therefore, confident that their safety lay in their own courage and their own swords, demanded from their officers the order to advance. The order was given, and acted upon, but with unexpected results; for the Roman commander attacked before they were properly organized to receive him, only the leading files having got clear of the camp while the remainder, in good order, were still coming down the slope to their assigned positions on the open ground below. Even the sections which were clear of the entrenchments in time were not yet adequately deployed, so what the Romans encountered was, to all intents and purposes, little better than a mob of men in appalling confusion, trying desperately to form some sort of defensive line and looking to every side for support which was not there. Valerius struck hard, and the weight of his attack, and the war–cry of his men, added to their difficulties, so that they were compelled to give ground; soon, however, they rallied, partly by their own efforts, partly in response to their officers who roundly abused them for running from an enemy they had so recently defeated. A stern struggle ensued; Valerius called upon his troops to remember that they were free men, fighting their first battle for a free Rome: ‘For none but yourself,’ he cried, addressing the infantry, ‘the victory will be – not this time will it fill the pockets or swell the pride of the decemvirs! Not Appius commands you now, but I, your consul – I, Valerius, who brought you freedom like my ancestors before me. Show by your deeds that in former fights it was the commanders who failed, not the men. What? Will you stoop to have shown more courage against Romans than against a foreign foe? To have feared political domination more than defeat? Before this war began, Verginia might have been raped – the lust of Appius was a menace to all. Yes, Appius and Verginia – one man, one girl! But now, should things go ill, the children of every one of us will have to fear the worst from thousands. God avert the omen! Such things, indeed, Jupiter and Mars will never let happen to a city founded as ours was founded. Remember the Aventine and the Sacred Mount! bring back to the place where a few months ago you won your freedom a power and empire not a jot diminished, and prove today that the heart of a Roman soldier is what it always was before the decemvirs came to their accursed power, and that a Roman’s courage is none the less for his equality before the law!’
Valerius then galloped off to the cavalry lines for a final word, urging them to match their superiority of rank and honour by the quality of their performance. ‘Come, my lads,’ he said, ‘the infantry have shifted them already – now it is your turn: charge, and drive them from the field. They will not stand against you – even now their apparent resistance is no more than hesitation.’
Off went the squadrons at full gallop; some of the work having already been done by the infantry, they burst clean through the enemy’s lines, while other units riding round beyond their flanks, and finding the entire force bent upon nothing but saving their skins, cut across their line of retreat and prevented all but a few from reaching their entrenchments. Valerius and the infantry then concentrated their whole strength upon the camp itself, which was captured with heavy losses in men and immense losses in material.
News of the action quickly reached Rome and the other army which was engaged against the Sabines. In Rome there was rejoicing, but the effect of the news was even more notable on the troops under Horatius’s command, as it fired them to emulation. Horatius had already put his men through a period of training, sending out raiding–parties and seeking occasions for minor engagements, and by these means had given them confidence and helped them to forget their disgraceful defeat under the decemvirs’ command, until successes on a small scale had encouraged their hopes of victory in the campaign as a whole. The Sabines, for their part, were hardly less active: the previous year’s success had heightened their morale and they were now constantly trying to provoke a battle; they found it irritating in the extreme that their opponents should content themselves with what was, in effect, mere banditry, sending out and as rapidly recalling small groups of raiders, and dissipating what should have been an all–out struggle in a succession of trivial skirmishes. They would have greatly preferred a major action – a bold throw of the dice for victory or defeat. The Romans, for their part, had a double reason for impatience: first, the confidence they had by now acquired, and, secondly, the feeling that they were hardly being treated fairly. They knew that Valerius’s army would be returning to Rome with the laurels of victory, while their own opponents were still being permitted to treat them with mockery and contempt. But when would they be equal to them, if not now? Horatius, aware of his men’s restlessness, took the opportunity to address them. ‘I suppose,’ he said, ‘that you know the result of the action on Algidus. It was everything that a battle fought by the soldiers of a free people should be: by the skill of my colleague and the valour of his men victory was won. As for myself, the nature of my strategy and the quality of my determination will depend upon you: it is in our hands either to prolong this campaign or to bring it to a quick conclusion. Either course could lead to success; if we adopt the former, I shall continue to raise your confidence and heighten your morale by the same sort of discipline and training as heretofore; if, on the other hand, you are truly ready and ripe for a final trial of strength, then show it now in soldierly fashion – give a cheer, my men, as rousing as your battle–cry will be, to show that you have indeed the will and the stomach for a fight.’
Instantly the cheer was raised, and Horatius, with a prayer for luck, told his men that he would accept their decision and lead them into action on the following day. The rest of that day was spent in preparation and in final attentions to the men’s equipment.
At dawn the Sabines saw the Roman troops moving into battle positions. What they had long wanted had come at last, and they lost no time in following suit. The fight that followed was fiercely contested; the confidence of each army in its own superiority was based on sufficient reason: on the one side, a long past of unbroken military glory, on the other a recent and hardly expected victory. The Sabines showed tactical skill as well as fighting power, keeping in reserve a detached force, 2,000 strong, to attack the Roman left wing after the main bodies of the two armies had become engaged. This force duly executed the movement assigned to it, with the result that the Roman left was under serious pressure and almost surrounded, when the cavalry of two Roman legions, some 600 in number, dismounted and pressed forward on foot to the support of their badly shaken comrades. In any action it is the infantry who face the greatest danger, so this move on the part of the cavalry was doubly effective; for in addition to increasing the weight of resistance the mere fact that they were now engaged on equal terms shamed the infantry to further effort. Indeed, their pride could not endure to see their mounted comrades doing double service, or to feel that an honest footslogger was not a match for a dismounted cavalryman. As a result they resumed the offensive and recovered their lost ground, and in less than no time the immediate danger was not only averted, but the enemy’s wing was actually being forced back. The cavalry, covered by the infantry, took their chance to withdraw and remount, and then galloped across to the Roman right with news of the success, executing, immediately afterwards, a charge with devastating effect upon an enemy whose spirit was already partly broken by the defeat of his best troops. No other troops in the whole course of the engagement did finer service.
Horatius, in command, had his eyes everywhere; he was as quick to praise valour as to castigate the shirkers. A word of rebuke from him was enough to make a man of anyone – shame was as strong an incentive to the laggard as praise was to the valiant. Once again the battle–cry rang out, and a concerted thrust by every unit in the army had its reward; the enemy wavered, and from that moment the weight of the Roman attack was irresistible. The Sabines broke and fled for their lives, leaving their camp to be plundered at will. This time the Romans recovered property of their own, lost in previous raids – not, as was the case on Algidus, the property of their allies.
The behaviour of the Senate at this double success, in two separate battles, was ungenerous in the extreme: it decreed, in the name of the consuls, a period of national thanksgiving for one day only. The people, however, on their own initiative, took a second, and flocked to the temples to offer up their prayers – and indeed this second day of thanksgiving, though unofficial and purely the issue of popular sentiment, showed the greater earnestness and enthusiasm. The two consuls had agreed to return to the city within a day of each other, and on their arrival they called a meeting of the Senate in the Campus Martius to render an account of their exploits. During the session certain leading senators objected to its being held in the presence of troops, declaring that it was a deliberate attempt to terrorize the government; the protest was successful, and the consuls, to clear themselves, adjourned the session and called another in the Flaminian Meadows, where the temple of Apollo now stands (even in those days the place was known as Apollo’s Precinct). At this second meeting the Senate unanimously refused to grant the victorious consuls the public honour of a Triumph, whereupon the tribune Lucius Icilius submitted the question to a popular vote. Many came forward to dissuade the people from reversing the Senate’s decision, the most vehement of all being Gaius Claudius, who maintained that what the consuls really wanted was a ‘triumph’ not over the enemy but over the aristocratic party, their object being favour in return for personal services to a tribune rather than a public honour for military services to the state. He stressed the fact that the decision as to whether a Triumph had been earned by a successful commander had always, in the past, rested with the Senate, never with the people, and that not even the kings had impaired the dignity of the highest order in the state. It would be intolerable, he urged, if the power of the tribunes swelled to such proportions that there was no room left for any national deliberative body, as the very existence of fair laws and a free society demanded that every class within it should have, and keep, its own appropriate dignity and rights. Similar views were expressed by many others of the older Senators, but to no purpose. All the tribes voted in favour of Icilius’s motion. It was the first time in history that a Triumph was celebrated at the bidding of the people, without the Senate’s authorization.
The tribunes had won another victory for the popular cause, and this time it nearly resulted in a serious abuse, as it was followed by a secret agreement to procure the election of the same tribunes for the following year. To deflect attention from their own ambitions, the consuls, too, were to be elected for another term. The justification for this move was the united determination of the aristocratic party to discredit Valerius and Horatius and thus, by implication, to impair the influence of the tribunes. What – their argument ran – would happen if, before the laws were firmly established, the new tribunes were attacked through the agency of consuls belonging to the patricians’ own party? There would not always be consuls like Valerius and Horatius, to set popular liberty before their own interests. The immediate danger was, however, averted by the happy result of the drawing of lots for the presidency of the elections. The lot fell to Duellius, the very man for the purpose in view of the political good sense which enabled him to foresee the passions which would inevitably be aroused if magistrates were re–elected for a further term. Duellius declared that he would not consider the candidacy of any of the former tribunes, and his colleagues replied by insisting that he must either take a free vote from the tribes, with no conditions imposed, or resign the presidency to his colleagues, who would conduct the election according to law and not according to the wishes of the patricians. This conflict was precisely what Duellius wanted, and his next move was to ask the consuls, in due form, what their intentions were with respect to the consular elections. They replied that they would not seek re–election, whereupon Duellius, having gained popular supporters for his unpopular policy, went with them before the assembly. There the consuls were publicly asked what they would do if the Roman people, in regard for their military successes and for their help in the recovery of political freedom, re–elected them to office. Both men stuck to their decision, and said they would refuse the honour. Duellius expressed his warm approval of their determination not to imitate the conduct of the decemvirs, and proceeded to hold the election. Five tribunes were elected, and when, because of the ill–concealed efforts of the existing tribunes to obtain re–election, no other candidates succeeded in polling enough votes, he dismissed the assembly and held no further ones for election purposes. He maintained that his procedure was perfectly legal, as the law had never prescribed a definite number of tribunes but only the necessity for not leaving the office vacant, together with the duty of the successful candidates to co–opt colleagues. He then read aloud the legal formula, part of which ran: ‘If I shall call for your votes for ten tribunes, and you today shall elect less than ten, then those whom the elected tribunes co–opt as their colleagues shall be tribunes no less legally than those whom today you shall have elected.’ Duellius had stuck to his point; by refusing to admit the legality of having fourteen tribunes he succeeded in defeating the selfish ambition of his colleagues. He then resigned, having won the warm approval of both parties in the state.
In co–opting their colleagues the new tribunes allowed themselves to be guided by the wishes of the patricians, and even went so far as to select two, Spurius Tarpeius and Aulus Aternius, who were themselves of noble birth and ex–consuls. The consuls for the year were Spurius Herminius and Titus Verginius Caelimontanus; neither man had very pronounced leanings either to the aristocratic or to the plebeian interest, so their period of office was a tranquil one.
The fact that two patricians had been co–opted was resented by one of the tribunes, named Trebonius, who felt he had been cheated in the matter by the aristocratic party and betrayed by his colleagues; he accordingly brought forward a proposal that whoever called upon the commons to elect tribunes should continue to do so until ten had been elected. Indeed, the grudge he bore against the patricians made him throughout his year of office such a thorn in their flesh that he was nicknamed As per – ‘the Prickly’.
The next consuls, Marcus Geganius Macerinus and Gaius Julius, managed to pour oil on the troubled waters of strife between the tribunes and the young nobles without any hostile action against the tribunate or any sacrifice of their own party’s dignity. They kept the restlessness of the commons within bounds by suspending a recruiting order which had been issued for a campaign against the Volscians and Aequians, maintaining that political tranquillity at home went hand in hand with good relations abroad, just as domestic discord was always the cue for potential enemies to start fire–eating. Their peace policy also led to a diminution of tension within the state. Nevertheless the fundamental hostility between the two orders remained; either was always quick to take advantage when the other showed moderation, and if the commons were apparently content, it was only a signal for the young nobles to start fresh persecutions. The tribunes attempted to protect the humble and obscure, but their intervention was hardly successful, and as time went on they were not even safe from attack themselves, especially in the latter months of the year when powerful cabals began to be formed against them, and their own influence, like that of all magistrates, was tending to diminish as the end of their term approached. Tribunes like Icilius would indeed have been something for the commons to put their trust in: but what were the tribunes now? For two years they had been no more than names. As for the older members of the nobility, the position was somewhat equivocal: they knew that the young men in their party were going too far, but could not help feeling, at the same time, that if there must be excesses, it was better to have them practised by their own party than by their opponents. True moderation in the defence of political liberties is indeed a difficult thing: pretending to want fair shares for all, every man raises himself by depressing his neighbour; our anxiety to avoid oppression leads us to practise it ourselves; the injustice we repel, we visit in turn upon others, as if there were no choice except either to do it or to suffer it.
The next consuls to take office were Titus Quinctius Capitolinus (for the fourth time) and Furius Agrippa. They were fortunate in not having to deal either with a popular revolt or a foreign war, though both came all too near for comfort. The hostility of the tribunes and the commons against the nobility was again on the increase; prosecutions of one or another member of the aristocratic party were continually reducing the public assemblies to uproar, and party strife of the most embittered kind seemed inevitable. These disturbances were the signal for the Volscians and Aequians to prepare for war; their leading men, eager to enrich themselves at Rome’s expense, had persuaded their peoples that Rome had failed to raise troops the previous year because the commons had deliberately refused service, and for that reason no expedition had been sent out against them. Roman discipline was a thing of the past; her people had lost the habit of war, and she was no longer a united nation. All the pugnacity which once found satisfaction in foreign wars was now turned inward; the Roman wolves, as they put it, were blinded by a rabid hatred of each other, and this was the chance to crush them.
Their combined forces first invaded Latium with devastating effect. Finding no serious opposition they then, to the infinite satisfaction of the men responsible for their aggressive policy, advanced, spreading desolation in their path, to the very walls of Rome near the Esquiline Gate, where with triumphant insolence they called upon the inhabitants of the City to cast their eyes over their ruined farms and abandoned fields. Nothing was done to avenge the insult, and they marched back to Corbio with their plunder.
This was the moment for the consul Quinctius to intervene: he called a mass meeting and addressed it (I am informed) to the following effect. ‘Fellow Romans, though my conscience is clear, I meet you in this place with bitter shame. To think that you know – and that history will record – that in the fourth consulship of Titus Quinctius an armed force of Volscians and Aequians, who were recently hardly a match for the Hernici, advanced with impunity to the walls of Rome! For years now the sort of life we Romans have lived and the sorry state of our affairs have given me little cause to foresee a happy outcome; nevertheless had I known that such a disgrace was in store for us this year of all years, I should have shunned it by any means in my power – by exile or death, if there was no other way of avoiding office. If those who stood armed at our gates had been worthy of the name of men, Rome might have been captured in my consulship! I had had honours enough already, and enough – more than enough – of life; it would have been better to have died in my third consulship.
‘Our dastardly enemy has held us in contempt; but – I ask you – who was it he despised? Was it we, your consuls, or yourselves? If we are in fault, strip us of the command we do not deserve; nay, if that is not enough, bring us to justice to cut off our heads; if it is you who are guilty, then, my friends, it is my prayer that neither God nor man may punish you, but only that you may repent. Is the enemy confident of his valour and contemptuous of your cowardice? No indeed: he has too often been beaten, too often driven from his camp, stripped of his lands, sent under the yoke, not to know himself and you. The truth is that our communal life is poisoned by political discord and party strife, and it was that which raised his hopes of destroying us, seeing, as he did, your lust for liberty in perpetual conflict with our lust for power, and each party’s loathing of the representative magistracies of the other. What, in God’s name, do you want now? Once it was tribunes, and to preserve the peace we let you have them; then it was decemvirs, and we permitted their appointment. Soon you were sick of them; we forced them to resign, and then, when you continued to pursue them into their private lives with your rage and resentment, we permitted men of the noblest birth and highest political distinction to suffer exile or death. Again you wanted tribunes – and got them; you wanted consuls who would support the popular cause, and, though we knew how hard it would hit us, the great patrician magistracy was offered on a plate to our opponents. You have your tribunes to protect you, your right of appeal to the people, your popular decrees made binding on the Senate, while in the empty name of justice all our privileges are trampled under foot: all this we have borne, and are still bearing. How is it to end? Will the time ever come when we can have a united city, a united country? You have beaten us, and we accept our defeat with more equanimity than you your victory. Is it not enough that we must fear you? We were the enemy when you took the Aventine and occupied the Sacred Mount; now we have seen the Esquiline within an ace of capture, and Volscian troops swarming up the ramparts of Rome – and not a man stepped forward to repel them. Only against us do you play a soldier’s part; only against us have you drawn the sword.
‘Let me give you a piece of advice: when you have besieged the Senate House, made the Forum unsafe for honest men, filled the gaol with your hated aristocrats, just take a trip, swashbucklers as you are, outside the Esquiline Gate – or, if that is too much for your courage, climb on the walls and look at your farms destroyed with fire and sword, watch the smoke rising, far as your eyes can reach, from burning buildings, and your cattle being driven off. Maybe you will say that it is only the state which is the sufferer – crops are being burned, the city besieged by a victorious enemy. God help you! Aren’t your own pockets affected too? Soon enough the reports will come in and every man of you will know his losses. What resources have you got to make them up with? Will your precious tribunes give you back your wrecked or stolen property? They’ll give you words, sure enough – as many as you like – and other fine things – writs against leading statesmen, public meetings, and half a hundred new laws. But not your property. Public meetings, indeed! Who ever left them better off in any real or practical way, or took anything home from them for his wife and children except hatred and bitterness and food for fresh quarrels either with the government or his neighbour – troubles too great, apparently, for yourselves as brave and honest men to cope with, as you always expect somebody else to get you out of them. But – God in Heaven! – in the days when you were soldiers under our command, not political agitators whom your tribunes lead by the nose – when you used your throats not for political slogans to scare the Roman senators, but for the battle–cry to strike terror into the hearts of the enemy in the field – then indeed you would return in triumph to your hearths and homes loaded with spoils from captured lands and full of success and glory, each for himself and each for all, while now the foreigner is carrying away all your treasure, all you possess – and you let him go! Stick as you will to your assemblies and your petty politics, the necessity of military service, which you try to avoid, will pursue you. Action against the Volscians was not to your taste – so what? The enemy are at the gates. If he is not forced back, we shall soon be fighting in the streets; Volscian troops will be climbing the Capitol and chasing you into your very homes. Last year the Senate ordered the raising of troops and an expedition to Algidus – but here we still are, doing nothing, screaming at each other like fishwives, thankful to be at peace and blind to the bitter truth that we shall pay for the few short months of it by a many times more desperate war. What I am saying is not, I know, of the pleasantest sort; but I cannot help it. Harsh necessity, as well as my own character, compels me to tell the truth, not to flatter you with agreeable lies. I should like to please you, my friends, but I should much prefer to save you, whatever your feelings to me, personally, may be. It seems to be a law of nature that a speaker who speaks only for himself is more popular with a crowd than one who has nothing in his mind but the public welfare – unless perhaps you believe in the disinterestedness of those flattering demagogues, those yes–men and self–styled friends of the people, and suppose that it is for your sakes that they rouse your wrath and urge you to action. Your passions are their profit – to fill their pockets or get them promotion. In an ordered and harmonious society they know they are nothing, and they would rather lead a bad cause than none at all. Only tell me that now, at long last, you are sick and weary of this state of affairs – that you are willing to go back to your old ways, like your fathers before you – and I give you leave to gaol or behead me as you please if I fail within a week to beat these marauders, capture their camp, remove the threat to the gates and walls of Rome and carry to their cities the whole terror of war which now makes you tremble.’
They were the words of the sternest of consuls, yet seldom had the mob greeted the speech even of a popular tribune with greater enthusiasm. Even the young men who were accustomed in such moments of crisis to consider the refusal to enlist as their best weapon against the nobility, now began to turn a favourable eye upon the prospect of war. Resentment rose as refugees began to come in from the countryside, some badly wounded, others who had lost all they possessed, and all with stories of atrocities worse than anything that people in the city could be directly aware of. In the Senate everyone looked to Quinctius as the sole champion of the majesty of Rome, and the leading senators declared that his speech had been in the true tradition of consular authority and worthy of a man who had so many times held that eminent position and lived a life crowded with honours often enjoyed and oftener deserved. It was the unanimous opinion of the House that while other consuls had either betrayed the dignity of the Senate to curry favour with the populace, or, on the other hand, had exacerbated its opposition by their bullying and high–handed determination to safeguard the privileges of their own order, Titus Quinctius had delivered a speech which was consistent no less with the friendly cooperation between parties than with the majesty of the Senate, and which – more important still – was aptly timed to meet the circumstances. He and his colleague Agrippa were requested to assume control; the tribunes were urged to cooperate loyally with the consuls in removing the immediate threat to Rome, and to see to it that the commons throughout the crisis obeyed the orders of their superiors. It was emphasized that the appeal to the tribunes came from the country as a whole: both parties equally implored their assistance in a situation of exceptional danger.
By general consent a decree was issued, and acted upon, for the raising of troops. The consuls, addressing the assembled people, said that it was no time to consider appeals for exemption; all men of military age were to present themselves at dawn the following day in the Campus Martius; only when the war was over would they fix a date for hearing the appeals of men who failed to register, and anyone whose appeal was not satisfactory would be treated as a deserter. At the appointed time every man without exception presented himself.
The cohorts selected their own centurions, and two senators were put in command of every cohort. The whole process of mobilization was, we are told, so rapid that though the quaestors had brought the standards from the treasury only that morning the troops were on the move by ten o’clock; a few veteran cohorts accompanied the army of fresh recruits, and the whole force encamped for the night ten miles out of the City on the Latin Way. The next day brought them in sight of the enemy and they took up a position within easy striking distance of them, near Corbio; on the third day the engagement took place – neither side wishing to postpone matters, as the Romans’ blood was up and the enemy, having broken the peace on so many previous occasions, was rendered reckless by the knowledge of the injustice of his cause.
The tradition in the Roman army was that the two consuls shared the command equally; on this occasion, however, Agrippa by mutual agreement conceded the supreme command to his colleague Quinctius – a concession likely to prove most salutary when important decisions have to be made. Agrippa stood down without any feelings of resentment, and Quinctius in reply showed no less courtesy in discussing with him all his plans and admitting him, as if he were his equal, to a share in all his achievements.
When the armies engaged, Quinctius commanded the Roman right, Agrippa the left; Spurius Postumius Albus, a senior officer, had charge of the centre, and another, Publius Sulpicius, of the cavalry. On the right the infantry fought a distinguished action against fierce resistance; Sulpicius with his mounted troops broke through the enemy’s centre and then made a quick decision, though the way was open for withdrawal, to attack them in the rear before they could re–form. By this movement, which would have subjected them to simultaneous pressure on both front and rear, he might in less than no time have completely broken their resistance, had not the Volscian and Aequian cavalry, taking a leaf from his own book, swiftly intervened. For some time they managed to check him; but he was a determined fighter and called for instant and vigorous action. They were cut off and surrounded, he cried, and would remain so unless an immediate and desperate effort were made. To rout the enemy cavalry was not enough: they must not escape alive – men and horses must be killed – not one must be allowed to get away or to fight again. ‘At them, men!’ he ended; ‘how can they stand against us, when their massed infantry broke before our charge?’
Sulpicius’s appeal did not fall on deaf ears. A single charge was enough; the whole enemy brigade was cut to pieces–men in hundreds flung from their mounts to perish, man and beast, at the point of the Roman lances. The cavalry engagement was over. Sulpicius then turned his attention to the infantry, at the same time sending the consuls a report of his success. The enemy line opposed to Quinctius was already beginning to crack, and the good news put fresh heart into the Roman battalions and brought dismay to the hard–pressed Aequians; it was their centre which had first begun to go, where Sulpicius’s victorious charge had thrown their ranks into confusion; then their left, too, had been forced to withdraw before the weight of Quinctius’s attack. On the enemy right was the hottest work: Agrippa, a magnificent fighter and still in the prime of life, aware that things were going worse in his own sector than anywhere else, snatched the standards from their bearers and pressed forward with them in his own hands – and even, to shame his men to greater efforts, flung some of them into the thick of the enemy ranks. The ruse succeeded; a furious onslaught followed, and victory along the whole front was won.
At that instant there arrived a message from Quinctius saying that he, too, had been successful and was within striking distance of the enemy’s camp, which he was nevertheless unwilling to enter until he knew that on the left wing too all had gone well. If, the message added, Agrippa had already proved victorious, he was to join him immediately so that all divisions of the army might take possession of what the camp contained. Close to the camp the two victorious commanders met, with mutual congratulations. There was no further fighting; the small remaining garrison was quickly overwhelmed and the Roman armies burst in; an immense mass of material was captured, including what had been lost in the recent raids, and the two armies started back on their march to Rome.
I find in the accounts of this campaign that the consuls did not ask for an official Triumph – nor was it offered them by the Senate. No reason is given for their refusing, or not expecting, this honour; my own guess – tentative, indeed, as all this happened so long ago – is that the attitude of Quinctius and Agrippa was not uninfluenced by the case of Valerius and Horatius in the preceding campaign: Valerius and Horatius had achieved the distinction of a victory not only over the Volscians and Aequians but over the Sabines as well, but were none the less refused a Triumph by the Senate; and in view of this Quinctius and Agrippa hesitated to demand a Triumph for a victory only half as great, lest, if they were granted it, it should have the appearance more of a personal favour than of a reward for services rendered to the state.
The lustre of the victorious campaign was somewhat dimmed by a disgraceful incident which followed. It arose out of a request from the communities of Aricia and Ardea, both allies of Rome, that the Roman people should act as arbitrators in a dispute about the ownership of a piece of territory, for which the two towns had fought so often that they were both exhausted. Representatives duly arrived in Rome; the Roman magistrates granted an Assembly to hear them put their case, and each side advanced its claims with the utmost vehemence. When, after the evidence had been heard, the moment came for the tribes to be called upon and the people to give their decision, a certain aged Roman of humble birth, named Publius Scaptius, suddenly intervened. ‘If,’ he said, addressing the consuls, ‘I may be permitted to speak in the national interest, I shall not allow the Roman people to make a mistake in this matter.’ The consuls, who thought he was an old dotard with no right whatever to express an opinion, ordered his removal; but he continued to shout at the top of his voice that the country was being betrayed, and finally appealed to the tribunes for a hearing. The tribunes – as always, the servants rather than the masters of the mob – aware that everybody was bursting with curiosity, gave the old man leave to say what he pleased. At once he began to speak: ‘I am eighty–two years old,’ he said, ‘and once long ago I fought in that bit of land you are talking about. I wasn’t young even then, for it was my twentieth year of campaigning – at Corioli it was. So what I’m telling you is something rubbed out of your memories by lapse of years, though in my own it is fixed clear enough. Now this land they are arguing about belonged to Corioli, and when Corioli was taken it became the property, by right of conquest, of the Roman people. The men of Ardea and Aricia had no control whatever over this land while Corioli remained independent; yet now they hope to rob us of it – us, the rightful owners, whom they have asked to arbitrate! Can you beat that for impertinence? I have not much longer to live; but I helped years ago, like a good soldier, to take that land with the strength of my arm, and I cannot believe that now I am old I should not defend it with my tongue – the only weapon I have left. I beg you therefore not to spoil your chances by a squeamishness which will do you no good.’
Scaptius’s advice was listened to not only with close attention but with a high measure of approval, and the consuls, to whom this was all too clear, swore by everything they held sacred that the thing was an outrage, and hurriedly sending for the leaders of the Senate went round the Assembly with them beseeching everybody they spoke to not to be guilty of this infamy: for an arbitrator to convert disputed property to his own use was a crime revolting in itself, and would set a precedent even worse. ‘Moreover,’ they added, ‘even if there were nothing to prevent a judge from attending to his own interest, by no means as much would be gained by the seizure of this territory as would be lost by the consequent, and deserved, alienation of our friends. Who can reckon the cost of the loss of honour, of the loss of our good name? What a story for these men to take home to Aricia and Ardea! Everyone will hear of it – our friends and enemies alike – our friends with what grief, our enemies with what delight! Do you think for a moment that any foreigner will put this down to Scaptius – an old fool who likes the sound of his own voice? No indeed: it would make a fine epitaph for Scaptius, no doubt – but as for the Roman people, they would be playing the unwonted role of petty swindlers in the fraudulent conversion of other men’s property. What judge in a private case would ever have awarded the disputed property to himself? Not even Scaptius would do such a thing, however dead to shame he may be.’
Unhappily such arguments, though passionately urged both by the consuls and the senators, were of no avail. Cupidity prevailed – and the man who had recommended it. The tribes were called upon and pronounced their decision that the land was the public property of the Roman people. It is not denied that the verdict would have been the same, had the case gone to another court; as it was, it was wholly shameful, with no extenuating circumstances whatever, and the Roman senators felt it to be no less cynical and base than did the men of Ardea and Aricia.
The remainder of the year was undisturbed by civil dissension or foreign war.